Release Date: Oct 1, 2013
Record label: Oh Wow Dang
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
Tangled naked on the sleeve in a pose you’d pay money never to see Public Service Broadcasting recreate, Tennessee’s Those Darlins don’t just want their third album of lo-fi bubblegum garage-country to crystallise the burgeoning Nashville scene. They want us to confront the disruptive juxtapositions of gender and civilisation that we all ponder when faced with four people fondling each other. Their truck-stop talk of tumours, drunk moms and Isaiah 11:6 focus the album on Deep South degradation, but the lush Lemonheads-pop of ‘Drive’, the stoned drive-in glam of ‘That Man’ and the girl-band psych-blues of ‘Baby Mae’ lend this record the tint of a narcotic and poetic take on Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’ with Jack White on fuzz and Phil Spector on shotgun.
On their self-titled debut, Nashville’s Those Darlins were more schtick-merchants than songwriters, setting bad-girl hoots and hollers to ramshackle cowpoke-punk. But they evolved splendidly with the more fine-tuned sequel Screws Get Loose, the moody hangover to their debut’s drunken barroom blitz. With its psychedelic guitar ooze and textured production, that album expanded their sonic playbook, smoothing over some of their rough edges without sacrificing their trademark snottiness.
The third Those Darlins record opens with a drunk shower in a "shit hotel." But it doesn't stay clean for long: "Flowing these juices/The weed has induced us," Jessi Darlin sings a couple of songs later on "That Man." Since starting out as trashy, fun-loving cowpunks, the twogirl/two-guy Murfreesboro, Tennessee, band has gone further toward gnarled garage rock with each album. Some of the Darlins' loose sense of humor has been lost along the way, but it's been replaced by a seductive bite that goes well with their lupine guitar ooze. "Western Sky," a rejection of "civilized noise," adds another wrinkle to their sound: shambling Meat Puppets-like prettiness that stretches out beyond the red-rock horizon.
Those Darlins went through a couple of changes after the release of their excellent 2011 album Screws Get Loose, losing one member (guitarist Kelly), adding another (Adrian Barrera), and then switching up their sound again. After going from a rambling country band to a tough garage punk combo, the group bulk up their sound on 2013's Blur the Line, and with production help from indie rock lifer Roger Moutenot, smooth down the wild edges and careening performances that worked magic on Screws Get Loose. Instead, their approach here is more restrained and predictable, with both the songs and the sound failing to catch fire in any appreciable way.
Truth-in-titling: Blur The Line is the operative term here, with the Nashville combo literally evolving before our eyes (ears). It’s like watching a fish slip from the primordial swamp onto the shore, which then shivers and twists its head around only to abruptly sprout legs and arms and then go marching up the path to kick the asses of some preppy amphibians. Okay, maybe I’m reaching a bit in my simile.
What really struck me about my introduction to Those Darlins – their last record, Screws Get Loose – was the bizarre mish-mash of styles that the album represented. It was a record that, taken at face value, breezed by unremarkably, and that in itself was noteworthy; it’s not too often you hear an album that actually sounds like less than the sum of its parts. It’s like somebody took the sun-kissed guitars that characterise Best Coast or Wavves and infused it with a rockabilly sensibility that ultimately didn’t prove very complementary.