After the death of his father, Darker My Love front man Tim Presley came to a realisation about his band’s music: “Honesty is king and that’s just the way it is,” he said in a piece on the Dangerbird website. “Life is too short to fuck around with what you do for a living.” The resulting album, Alive As You Are, changes (aguably for the better) everything we knew or thought we knew about Darker My Love, who were once a trusted source of consistently noisy psychedelic rock.
On their third album, DML have traded in their fuzz-boxes and shoegaze reverb, their stomping and riffing, for a true and genuine west-coast sound, harnessing the long and layered history of San Francisco’s legendary Hyde Street Studios (whose past inhabitants have included Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and The Grateful Dead).
There’s still plenty of riffing here, but all those layers of noise have fallen away to reveal an impressive knack for song craft. It’s not shoegaze torchbearer riffing though; it’s easier to compare this new DML to The Allman Brothers or Spirit than The Jesus & Mary Chain.
Presley’s voice always sounded haunting and introspective when enveloped in reverb, but without it, he comes into his own, sounding a bit like a mix of Bob Dylan, and Ray Davies. And the addition of former Brian Jonestown Massacre drummer Dan Allaire adds a cohesive, classic rock groove to the mix. The music is loose and recorded live in the studio; DML is obviously having plenty of fun whilst taking themselves more seriously.
Backseat opens the album with a rambling acoustic line that builds into a chugging road anthem. “The backseat that we’re in won’t let us touch the ground,” Presley sings alongside spot-on harmonies that recall Crosby, Stills, and Nash. New America sounds like what may have happened if The Kinks had cut their teeth in the California sun.
The album’s closer, Cry On Me Woman, was the first song the band recorded during the sessions at Hyde Street, and it’s the most charmingly loose arrangement here; it’s got all the earmarks of a seasoned touring band letting loose in the studio. Even so, there are no over-the-top solos, and no reverb for the band to hide behind, resulting in a nuanced sound that far surpasses any of the band’s previous work in its capacity for active listening. This is not simply an album to rock out to.
“We both concentrated on actual songwriting instead of jamming,” Presley says of his and bassist Rob Barbato’s songwriting. “Everything on this one is for the sake of the songs.” Certainly, the songs have benefitted from Darker My Love’s new approach. Presley and company have turned in an excellent album that channels and challenges all that is great about California’s musical heritage.
Shoegaze is a tough pigeonhole to shake, and it’s hard to guess where this one will land, seeing as it goes against Darker My Love’s previous aesthetic in nearly every way possible. But in the long run, that won’t matter. Alive As You Are is what west-coast rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to sound like.