Darwin Deez: Songs for Imaginative People
Darwin Smith, the mind behind Darwin Deez, has crafted the perfect narrative for his latest album. Since his self-titled 2010 debut, Smith has ditched the energy of New York City for a quiet escape to North Carolina. Now every publication lauds Smith’s “return to his routes” and “needed change of scenery.” While that’s all well and good, Deez’s move from NYC to NC has done little in terms of simplifying his music. While Songs for Imaginative People may be more thematically focused than his debut, the music itself is still basically a case study for musicians with ADD. It’s admirable how readily Smith flirts with disaster on this record. With goofy guitar solos, off-kilter exercises in prog-rock and some dizzying lyricism, the album lives up to its imaginative billing ‒ to mixed results.
Songs… opens with a forceful, thematically rich song in “(800) HUMAN.” Fit with drum kit, handclaps, and nearly every sound effect ever recorded, the song’s main triumph is its effective introduction to Smith’s occasionally alienating falsetto. Smith can throw his voice in a variety of directions and, at its best, resembles the airy oddness of David Longstreth’s. Unfortunately it isn’t always utilized effectively, like on “Good to Lose,” where his speech-singing mostly shines a light on the album’s troublesome songwriting, rather than elevating the song in any way. At times, Darwin Deez manages to shed its songwriting and vocal weaknesses and actually funnel both of those qualities into really strong songs. “Redshift” is a total triumph, where the restlessness of the album is completely enchanting, rather than confusing. Opening with a jazzy rhythm that would feel right at home on The King of Limbs, Smith’s voice breaks out with fury, wailing some lovely, nihilistic lyrics. “You Can’t Be My Girl” is, again, well-written and sincere, and naturally closes with a rousing climax that amplifies just about all of Smith’s strengths as an artist.
Oddly, there is some cohesion amid this restlessness, if that’s even possible. Most of the songs are built around one infectious guitar riff and Smith’s nearly spoken vocals are there as a guide for every strange direction this album may take. In that way, this album almost does the impossible: it presents a twisted menagerie of sounds and styles while still not feeling very unpredictable. Smith emphatically proves that his is not a discriminating eye when it comes to musical choices. This hampers the album in that almost weakness of Songs for Imaginative People can be traced back to Smith’s inability to hold back at times. With that said, such restlessness (or recklessness) is essential in defining the album’s character. It may have a heart, it may have a humanity to it; but a character built on imperfection is hard to sustain for an entire album. There’s a great album in Darwin Smith, but this isn’t the one.