To say that there's now been a slew of albums recorded by a pair of musicians, either as a group or on their own, after their combined professional and personal relationship just became a musical one is an understatement. So Dark Dark Dark's third album comes with unavoidable baggage on the part of its core creators, Nona Marie Invie and Marshall LaCount, but as with any similar releases, from Shoot Out the Lights on down, it's about how the personal applies to a wider audience that matters most, and sharp lines about failed joint futures like "I'll dance this last dance for you. .
My first encounter with Dark Dark Dark came courtesy of their Daytrotter series, back when it was still a free service. I still consider their session one of the best that Daytrotter’s done and was further won over by the band after seeing them live at the University of Madison in 2009, opening for Why?. Then I started listening to their studio material and none of it grabbed me as effectively as their live material had, though it always impressed.
When watching Dirty Projectors perform in Manchester a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by how sweetly awkward it must be to be in Amber Coffman's position. Singing the love-struck lyrics that David Longstreth had written about her, and their relationship, Coffman looked bashful and eye-rolling in the way you only can when someone's saying something genuinely kind about you in public-- but with the added pressure of having to sing the flattering words herself. Romance with a band member is always going to cause compromises, and the break-up of Dark Dark Dark's Nona Marie Invie and Marshall LaCount in the middle of touring their last album, 2010's Wild Go, provoked a question in the title of their third that looks a lot like an ultimatum: Who Needs Who? The title of the Minneapolis band's new full-length is curious, given that Invie and LaCount's decision to keep the band together implies a mutual dependence, at least creatively.
During “Who Needs Who,” the title-track on Dark Dark Dark’s third studio album, a lovely straight-ahead piano ballad explodes into a chaotic New Orleans jazz-klezmer hybrid, with trumpets sighing wildly over frenetic piano chords. It’s totally unexpected and completely exhilarating—and that spirited mischief is sorely missed elsewhere on Who Needs Who, as the album settles into a series of soggy, minor-key piano ruminations. With instrumentation this well-rounded, you’d expect a carnival atmosphere: On top of a traditional piano-bass-drums rhythm section, Dark Dark Dark wheel out strings, horns, and accordions, all used to frame and color Nona Marie Invie’s aching jazz-cabaret vocals.
It’s an oft-used phrase which has been bent into rather convoluted shape here, but it still stands firm: you can have any type of song you like on this album, as long as it's Dark Dark Dark. The Minneapolis band’s third LP is definitely of a mood, and it’s not a happy one. There’s a good reason for the gloomy tinge to proceedings: singer Nona Marie Invie broke up with Dark Dark Dark’s co-founder and producer Marshall LaCount last year, and the band have been through a brief hiatus and what I would imagine were some awkward rehearsals in the time since.
Dark Dark Dark alternate between melancholy rumination and regret-filled boot-stompers on their second full-length, Who Needs Who. Over their prior two records, the band established its signature sound as a genre-blurring mix of Eastern European folk melodies, country twang, and jazzy piano riffs. Lead singer Nona Marie Invie filled her vocals with the kind of soul that we’ve come to expect from latter-day indie folk acts, always tempered with a solid rhythm.
A break-up album full of affection and understanding. Wyndham Wallace 2012 Working with a romantic partner is always hard. But for those with bands, forced to live in close proximity in buses and dressing rooms, it’s especially tough. For Nona Marie Invie and Marshall LaCount, co-founders of Minneapolis’ Dark Dark Dark, it proved too much: they split a year after the release of 2010’s Wild Go, leaving them to deal with the repercussions as they continued touring.