By Jeb Backe ’19
Double Down is the third record of Darwin Deez. While the group is often defined as an indie pop band, I feel that doesn’t fully do them justice. Their sound is unique with a certain jangly, feel good quality that is often equated to pop music. The band is fronted by the group’s songwriter, vocalist, and lead guitarist, Darwin Smith, a young curly haired man from Brooklyn, NY. Darwin Deez broke into the scene with a distinct sound that had no real comparison to other artists. Their impressive original style can only be rivaled by their equally praise-worthy knack for songwriting. People quickly took notice of this after Darwin Deez’s self-titled first album with some hits like “Constellations,” “Radar Detector,” and “Up in the Clouds.” Additionally, the filming of their live performances that included choreographed dances and rap solos provided the group with a great internet presence. In their second album, Songs for Imaginative People, Darwin Deez continued to prove that not only could they churn out more catchy indie hooks, but they could also evolve stylistically to a much broader range than their first album.
In Double Down we see this evolution of sound continue, while also retaining that Darwin Deez charm. One of the things that immediately stood out to me on this newest album is the upped production. Darwin Deez clearly has grown more comfortable with the studio setting. I can draw a lot of similarities between this album and their first in its pop song structure. Their second album, Songs for Imaginative People, strayed from that structure with tracks that branched and built upon themselves. But I still feel those aspects of the second album are intertwined within this newest release as well.
This album also possesses far more percussive range of instrumentation. The distinction between Darwin Deez and Songs for Imaginative People in drums could easily be heard in the switch from a strictly 808 sound in the first album to a far broader and glitchier style in the second one. This latest album continues in enveloping all these past styles and moving forward into an even more expansive mix of percussion with a little more focus on a live drumset. In comparison to these previous works, Double Down seems to take its favorite aspects from those past projects and put them together while also progressing the sound of the group.
Many tracks also feature some great solo work. Two songs with particularly great solos being “The Mess She Made” and “Kill Your Attitude.” There is a noticeable improvement in Darwin’s guitar soloing abilities on this album. His solos are more melodic and far less self congratulatory than previously (not that his soloing was not enjoyable before). The solos on this album really show Darwin’s broader knowledge of music theory and scales.
Lyrically, there’s a continued use of analogies, metaphors, and wordplay like in previous efforts. Depending on the listener this can come of as endearing, cheesy, or possibly a little bit of both. Whether good or bad, no one writes lyrics like Darwin Deez. Personally, I get a lot of enjoyment out of the play on words and parallels he draws in his at times, overly obvious allegorical accounts.
This album does get set back a bit in the push to try and make every song a pop hit. But the ambition to make big singles can be heard throughout. Sadly, it’s just that some fall a little short. Some stranger moments on the album come when I got almost a grunge vibe from some tracks. “Time Machine” gives off a strong reminiscence of “Lithium” by Nirvana and at the chorus of “Rated R” it gives a bit of the unfortunate impression of Post-Grunge bands like Creed. I think with the greater production abilities on this album it’s possible that Darwin Deez might have tried to extend beyond the previous sound of the group. But in tracks like these it can result in feeling like aspects of the songs just don’t fully fit and that this extension of sound may go a bit farther than they intended. However, some praiseworthy tracks on this album that I feel should be mentioned are “Right When it Rains,” “Melange Mining Co.,” “Kill Your Attitude,” and “The Missing I Wanna Do.” When it actually comes to the tracks that really come together, these songs really hit the nail on the head. The noteworthy tracks on this album, truly do stand out.
As a whole this album has great instrumentation, some extremely catchy melodies, and really intelligent use of the pop song format. Darwin has two tricks up his sleeve that have been consistent across all albums but still continue to impress. They are his use of a very distinct harmony style and his countermelodies in the background. When executed by Darwin Deez, these tools have a unique flair that provides a fun listening experience. Many other aspects in addition to these techniques lend Darwin Deez songs to provide for an excellent relistening experience.
Overall, there are many subtle intricacies to this album. Each song on here has a platform of light background instrumentation in addition to the forefront riffs, drums, and melody. These understated aspects range from the simple to the very complex, all adding up into Darwin Deez’s very distinct sound and atmosphere. Every listen provides a new light detail that I’ve never heard before. Darwin Deez almost creates a whole world in the way their songs consist of so many different parts and pieces all working independently within the same space. All these separate bits come together in a natural yet almost ethereal way to make something pretty beautiful.