Dark Dark Dark | The Snow Magic (Blood Onion)

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cd_dark-dark-dark.jpgDark Dark Dark are likely not chart bound, but for fans of compelling, original music, this recording is a stunner.







In the mood for a little tense, back-alley Eastern European gypsy folk shot through with existential angst and prominently featuring accordion and banjo? Not a chance, you say? Well, too bad for you, ‘cause you'll miss hearing one of the most original and daring albums to come out this year, even if the commercial odds are stacked against it. The Minneapolis-based quartet, Dark Dark Dark, have chosen a name that some might call pretentious -- and it's arguably even misleading, as this intimately rendered, worldly music is no soundtrack for slitting your throat. Rather, it's energetic and throbbing with life, even if the themes do explore loss, pain and the difficulties of survival. But the contingent of listeners who'll come running to check out an album where accordion and banjo are lead instruments (and drums are largely absent, as well) is a small one.

So, DDD are likely not chart bound, but for fans of compelling, original music, this recording is a stunner. The two primary vocalists—Nona Marie Invie and Marshall LaCount—both have memorable pipes, which they blend in haunting style on tracks such as "Ashes," "Colors" and "New York Song." LaCount's voice sparkles with intelligence and conviction; timbre-wise, it's pitched somewhere between Thom Yorke's lower range and the cool sophistication of Norway's Sondre Lerche.

Invie, however, is a force to be reckoned with. Hers is a raw, emotive instrument that delivers every bit of pain, disillusionment and an "I don't suffer fools gladly" attitude that's likely at the forefront of her psyche every day. It's not always comfortable listening, in other words; no laid-back prettiness or showstopping big moments are on display here. But Invie is a powerhouse vocalist if you like music that's totally authentic, where the singer sounds 100% invested in what they're sharing with you. I don't know what this woman grew up listening to, but she sure doesn't sound American, and her aesthetic is miles away from anything as ordinary as radio-friendly pop. All that said, this is utterly hypnotic stuff.

"A Cloud Story" and "Colors" are riveting tracks that constantly build in intensity, taking you somewhere you can't predict. The eccentric "Ferment in Dm" finds Invie unleashing one of her most memorable vocals, and you can make of this verse what you will: "You've got a strong fermenting body/ You've got a body made of lead/I want to hold you under water/And calculate your next breath." Yikes!

But there are a lot of "yikes" on this album, and that's meant as a compliment. It keeps you off balance throughout, even as it encourages you to twirl for release on such movers as "New York Song" and the aptly named "A Spell for Letting Go." Another standout track is "That Light," a sort of delerious mad waltz on which piano, saw and cello vie for attention with Invie's voice. "Where's that light you're reaching for?" Invie sings repeatedly, as Robert Skoro's stellar production hits another high with its equal attention to every sound in the mix. Hard to say what "light" Invie is referring to here, but in terms of inspiration and fierce originality, just about everything is illuminated in this Dark Dark Dark gem of a debut. B+ | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Dresden Dolls, Beirut, Getting lost in European gypsy hangouts

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