If you hadn’t heard of Darwin Deez (aka Darwin Smith) prior to this week’s release of his second album, that makes two of us.
Let me walk you through my experience.
8:00 p.m. : See me hit ‘PLAY’ on Darwin Deez’s latest album, Songs for Imaginative People.
8:01 p.m. : See me Googling “Is Darwin Deez now, or has he ever been, a member of Postal Service?”
From the highly syncopated beat structure to the sarcastic (one will hope) general disregard for common melodic structure, Smith is redoing the overtly over-produced, smarty-pants electronica that has already been redone (by Owl City). However, he’s doing it with some heavy wit and stylish angst.
Disappointingly, the solid song structure, hypnotic rhythms and entrancing lyrics of Darwin Deez (2009) are absent, and I’m left to wonder what to do with these tracks; every single song is interrupted with an unexpected, dissonant interlude which, after four or five tracks, isn’t so unexpected anymore.
When the tracks aren’t over-layed with what basically amounts to stylized spoken-word poetry, Smith repetitively breaks into an unnerving falsetto, inserting rough screams and awkward harmonies with the intention, I assume, of shaking things up. Tragically, in its overworked endeavour to be different, it renders the album as a whole fairly homogenous and forgettable.
Ironically, this “overworked mediocrity” may be the point of the album.
Songs for Imaginative People clearly speaks to a generation of single, frustrated, underemployed souls who have somehow managed to retain a healthy sense of humour regarding their current conditions. What the songs lacks in comfortable sing-and-danceability, they certainly make up for in their comedy.
With stunning reliability, each track generates a surprisingly affable commentary of contemporary popular culture:
“Dear sir(s),? We regret to inform you? / The norm you conform to? / Does not meet our needs at this time?…”
-“Free (The Editorial Me)”
The strength of these tunes lies in the amusing, often thought-provoking lyrics and Smith’s impressive guitar bridges. Unfortunately, the former is highlighted to a regrettable extreme that too often displaces the latter. As a whole, the collection, while clever, feels like it was perhaps trying a little too hard to achieve its own intellectual grandeur.
Doubtlessly, there will be a solid base of Darwin Deez loyalists and fuzzy-laptop-synth enthusiasts who will be into Songs for Imaginative People, defending it, dismissing those who don’t get it right away as just being, well, unimaginative.
The rest of us will sum up the album in Smith’s own words:
I THINK I LOVE YOU ARE HORRIBLE
All that said, with the redefined, accurate expectations that can only be achieved through repeated play, the songs feel less fretful and anxious, with a few tracks emerging as inadvertent standouts. “Moonlit” has the most pop appeal, while “Free (The Editorial Me)” could easily be adopted as the underdog anthem of choice this summer.
Songs for Imaginative People is available to listen to, in its entirety here. Signed CDs, DVDs, vinyl and the like (including the Darwin Deez-curated mix tape, Wonky Beats) can be purchased here. Personally, I maintain a pretty healthy optimism that the aspects of this album that haven’t worked for me yet will have great success on a live scene. Good news: the band plays in Vancouver at Fortune Sound Club on March 4. You can buy tickets here.
As for whether Smith has ever been part of Postal Service, the short answer is no. The longer answer includes the strange coincidence that Postal Service just released their first track in 10 years on February 11, 2013. I remain highly, yet ironically, suspicious.
Check out Darwin Deez’s new video for “You Can’t Be My Girl”.