If Who Needs Who dropped in the early 1990s, Dark Dark Dark would have appeared in Sassy magazine’s “One to Watch” column. This band is the real deal. Frontwoman Nona Marie Imrie has a striking voice, their songs are catchy and insightful, and their arrangements and the spare production cast a spell over the listener. This Minneapolis-based quintet has a great album in them. The band’s third long-player isn’t quite that album.
This isn’t to say that Who Needs Who is by any stretch a bad album. The ten songs it comprises work well together and it has a cohesive feel that’s sadly lacking in today’s MP3-driven music scene. The spare production draws the listener to Imrie’s voice and her lyrics. Her words resonate with well-drawn narratives and universal-yet-personal details that feel neither hopelessly obscure nor ring false with vulgar exhibitionism.
While Dark Dark Dark’s hymn-like melodies, with their melodically unresolved measures, are compulsively listenable, they have a great skill with arrangements. Many bands have introduced accordions, marimbas, and other marching band instruments into their lineups, and many bands use them to affected, twee ends. Instead of using these instruments and arrangements in place of strong songwriting, Dark Dark Dark put their songs in the spotlight and deploy the non-rock instruments sparingly. On many of the songs, the accordion and brass have a muted sound that put one in mind of a party taking place in the next room, emphasizing the loneliness of the music. Other tracks incorporate a wider musical palette in an unexpected way. The fuller drum sound on “Tell Me” (listen here) gives it a trembling urgency.
Nona Marie Imrie sings in a strong, supple mezzo, free of the trembling vibrato and scale singing which exemplify what many audiences think of as good singing. Her voice sounds as strong in its upper registers as it does when she sings in her chest voice. At times, her mannered delivery and barely controlled staccato recalls Zola Jesus. On those occasions when she launches into well-placed melismata, her vocal curlicues bring to mind Lia Ices. Imrie’s intelligence and wit differentiate her from these two powerhouses, but at other points Dark Dark Dark’s music sounds so meek that they could be lost in the shuffle among similar bands.
Likewise, Imrie and her cohorts have a confident approach to writing and performing ballads. After a while, though, the songs—with their similar tempos, sad march rhythms, and slow-building structure—start to blend together. Dark Dark Dark play well to their strengths, but they would be well served by shaking things up. The klezmer-influenced instrumental break that punctuates the title track has a wonderful sense of pep. I’d love to hear that extended into a song.
Who Needs Who is a solid B+ effort from an up-and-coming band. If this album has some imperfections, it will whet listeners’ appetites for a more cohesive effort that may find the band on top of their game.
Wed. Oct. 3 – Minneapolis, MN @ Cedar Cultural Center w/ Emily Wells, Mountain Man
Sat. Oct. 6 – Chicago, IL @ Schubas w/ Angel Olsen
Mon. Oct. 8 – Hudson, NY @ Helsinki Hudson w/ Emily Wells
Tue. Oct. 9 – Allston, MA @ Great Scott w/ Emily Wells
Wed. Oct. 10 – Pawtucket, RI @ The Met w/ Emily Wells
Thu. Oct. 11 – Northampton, MA @ Iron Horse Music Hall w/ Emily Wells
Fri. Oct. 12 – Brooklyn, NY @ The Knitting Factory w/ Emily Wells
Sat. Oct. 13 – New York, NY @ Le Poisson Rouge w/ Emily Wells
Sun. Oct. 14 – Baltimore, MD @ Metro Gallery w/ Emily Wells
Mon. Oct. 15 – Washington, DC @ DC9 w/ Emily Wells
Tue. Oct. 16 – Durham, NC @ The Pinhook w/ Emily Wells
Wed. Oct. 17 – Atlanta, GA @ 529 w/ Emily Wells
Thu. Oct. 18 – New Orleans, LA @ Cafe Istanbul w/ Emily Wells
Fri. Oct. 19 – Houston, TX @ Fitzgerald’s w/ Emily Wells
Sat. Oct. 20 – Austin, TX @ Holy Mountain w/ Emily Wells
Sun. Oct. 21 – Denton, TX @ Dan’s Silverleaf w/ Emily Wells
Wed. Oct. 24 – Santa Fe, NM @ Santa Fe Sol w/ Emily Wells
Fri. Oct. 26 – Denver, CO @ Hi-Dive w/ Emily Wells
Sat. Oct. 27 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court w/ Emily Wells
Sun. Oct. 28 – Garden City, ID @ Visual Arts Collective w/ Emily Wells
Mon. Oct. 29 – Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile w/ Emily Wells
Tue. Oct. 30 – Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom w/ Emily Wells
Thu. Nov. 1 – Santa Rosa, CA @ Arlene Francis Theatre w/ Emily Wells
Fri. Nov. 2 – Oakland, CA @ The New Parish w/ Emily Wells
Sat. Nov. 3 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill w/ Emily Wells
Mon. Nov. 5 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Echoplex w/ Emily Wells
Tue. Nov. 6 – San Diego, CA @ Luce Loft w/ Emily Wells