Darwin Deez’s successful eponymous debut arrived two years ago and received bags of airplay thanks to a mix of catchy anthems and New York new wave-style guitar licks. Live shows were a blast as well, with playful sets incorporating messing about and improvised dance routines similar to Fatboy Slim’s iconic Praise You video.
Front man Darwin Deez (for he confusingly shares his stage name with the band) struck a strange and interesting stage presence – a mixture of new-age hippy with Shirley Temple curls and kookier than a Wes Anderson retrospective. Deez’s image remains the same but this sophomore album feels like a darker piece of work, shot through with the occasional flash of frustrated anger.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, and this album ticks all the boxes that you’d want from a follow-up disc. There’s just the right amount of musical progression, with little treading of water. But it’s also fair to say that this album is not as immediately enjoyable as its predecessor. If Deez’s debut was an infectiously affectionate puppy, then this is a more discerning mutt and one that needs to be taken for a walk several times before he’ll play catch with you.
There are some pleasing licks and good songs, but nothing stands out as being an obvious hit. As the title suggests, the intended audience is a little more discerning and intelligent than before. If you’re that type of person then you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. While its disjointed style makes it less immediate, the music is never alienating, and there’s certainly a huge amount of ideas on show. The album’s multiple layers are even more impressive when you consider that it was entirely self-recorded.
There’s the same januglar (jangly & angular) guitar work, but the ’80s also makes its presence clearly felt; the intro to Moonlit could easily be The Time backing up Prince on the Purple Rain soundtrack. The album sees the band’s themes develop more along the distopian sci-fi lines hinted at two years ago. The opener (800 Human) and Free (The Editorial Me) feel like howls of rage against an impersonal future and highlight Red Shift weaves in the big bang and the expanding universe to pleasingly romantic effect.
It’s true that the first half of the album feels a little too disjointed, with many ideas competing for space and things not really settling in place until the second half. Closing tracks All In The Wrist and Chelsea’s Hotel conclude things on an even keel, reminding you of the charm of Darwin Deez in full steam. The album is certainly imaginative, if not entirely coherent, and this is perhaps what makes the band a unique presence.