The words “art” and “rock” seem far removed, and when put together they leave us subject to openness and ambiguity. It’s a hard thing to truly define what makes an album, or, band for that matter, artsy. So, how do you classify a band as “art-rock” without lending yourself to a limitless number of adjectives; at the very least, avoid falling into a trap full of pretension? It’s a difficult line to walk, but with The Darcys‘ veritably anthemic new album, Warring, we can walk this line without succumbing to the snobbery that normally hinges itself to this somewhat vague genre (ironic?).
In truth, there isn’t really a clear, identifiable sound that resonates through Warring; it is more of an open palette full of varying themes. The album feels very gritty and artfully-wrought, but it’s cleaner cut than that: What The Darcys have done with Warring is put their rich and stylistically clean instrumentation to work creating dark and imposing soundscapes. The group don’t veer too far from their comfort zone, sticking to their usual arrangement of guitars, keyboards and drums. These instruments are, however, supplemented by pedals and synthesizers, though they don’t take-on an overly commanding role. Now this may all sound simple and limiting, but I can assure you, Warring is anything but.
Despite giving the appearance of a clean image, Warring quietly conceals its menacing presence. Distorted and highly-strained guitars run amok throughout the album, only neutralized by a crisp and finely-tuned piano — tracks like “Close to Me” and “Itchy Blood” really bring this conflicting arrangement to light. “Close to Me,” the first track on Warring, is a particularly fitting album opener with its slow, climatic build and its crunchy backdrop. “Itchy Blood,” on the other hand, is a much cleaner endeavour — though it does incorporate a great deal of electronics and synths. To really get some grit under your nails, however, you won’t have to turn too far.
Warring dips into a registry of sounds and textures, yet it never quite fulfills its MO — or, at least, the MO that it has been prescribed. The band have been labeled as “art rock,” but Warring clearly outlines the band’s rock roots. “Horses Fell” and “747s” both present themselves as heart-pumping anthems, and as such, they draw out the group’s salvo. There is a certain presence of structure, but the overall mood is that of letting loose; guitars are bent in every direction while soaring vocals fly over top. You can sense that the group is trying to open up and find a new sound for themselves, but for some indiscriminate reason they can’t quite break loose, always chasing one diminutive sound. For what it’s worth, though, they come very close to breaking their hypothetical shackles.
There is a very strong and definitive sound imbued into Warring, yet, there are some instances where the group, and particularly Jason Couse veer into uncharted territory. The most prominent example of this is “The River.” In this track, light guitar riffs blend into a rush of dampened beat pads and swelling synth lines. It starts off simply enough, revolving around a dark and eerie template, but as the song gradually progresses we are launched into a fizzle-y, chaotic mess. Nevertheless, an intense energy remains.
For The Darcys, Warring is an open playing field; it’s a testing ground for their new musical ventures. They’ve tried out some new sounds and styles, and further improved upon their production. To give it some “kick” they’ve done a bit of experimentation. But for the most part, they’ve kept their intense energy intact without slipping too far back into their old ways. With their two previous releases the band lived up to their classification, but with Warring they have tried something new. We can’t classify it as “rock,” nor can we classify it as “art rock.” What we can do, however, is enjoy it for what it is. It doesn’t need a title or a descriptor to define it, it just needs a band like The Darcys to create it.