As Kevin Drew releases his second solo album, it’s worth considering that when he released his first, in 2007, it was subtitled ‘Broken Social Scene presents’. The idea seems to have been that it would have been the first in a putative series in which various members the Canadian collective put out solo records. As it happened, an album from Drew’s Broken Social Scene co-founder Brendan Canning was the only other to be released under that banner and, listening to Darlings, it feels fitting that this album doesn’t mention his band on its sleeve.
It’s not necessarily the case that he’s trying to break out from the comfortable embrace of Broken Social Scene, but this does sound rather different from their baroque style. It’s sparer and cooler, and it’s a lot sexier. That might seem a slightly odd thing to say about a record that’s very much an indie rock album. After all, the indie dynamic that persists to this day was pretty much invented when The Pastels decided to eschew the alpha male bombast of rock and blues, admitted that they didn’t much like the idea of sleeping around, and wrote songs that sounded rather more fey than people were used to.
Of course, you don’t have to be ZZ Top looking for some tush, or wishing you could flag her down, in order to be sexy. You don’t have to sleep around or have semi-naked women grinding around in your videos (in the video for Darlings’ lead single Good Sex, Drew has actual couples getting their kit off and making out, which is both more visceral and less sexist than, say, Robin Thicke). But it’s still a little surprising to hear Drew singing about Body Butter in the first track, and then to hear him telling us, “Good sex it never makes you feel hollow, Good sex it never makes you feel clean.”
It’s not all oiled up dirtiness, however. You Gotta Feel It finds Drew singing “When the sadness wakes you up, you gotta feel it” over a melancholy backing that builds in intensity. It’s comparable with the deceptively wise power of The National. There are also more oblique moments, such as Mexican Aftershow Party – it’s hard to say what’s supposed to be so exciting about this event, but Drew makes it sounds so evocative that you end up wanting to head on down there with him.
Drew has said that Darlings is “about the rise and fall of love and sex, in my own life and in today’s society”. On the face of it that sounds pretty interesting, but when you step backwards mentally you quickly remember that a sizeable proportion of music is about love and/or sex, so it’s hardly an original topic. But what’s remarkable about this album is that Drew makes it feel original, by using understatement and intrigue. What exactly does he think good sex is? He tells us it doesn’t make you feel hollow or clean, but while that’s highly evocative, it’s not clear-cut.
It’s Cool is another case in point. A slow jam for fans of guitar music, its skittering beat and bassline are suggestive of RnB, but the vocals are far more deadpan. As a song about sex, its pitched between folk and RnB and it’s perfectly balanced – the former might seem an awkward form for discussing matters erotic, and the latter silly or hackneyed. Drew makes his subject matter feel fresh in both lyrics and music. Thus Darlings is a record that feels simultaneously cerebral and carnal – and things don’t get much sexier than that.