Dark Dark Dark – The Snow Magic
Record Label: SAD Music/Blood Onion Records
Release Date: October 28, 2008
It can probably go without saying that mood and music go hand-in-hand. Of course, some bands work harder than others to establish a setting for their songs. Dark Dark Dark go to great lengths to paint their bleak, folky landscape, slathering their latest release, The Snow Magic, in plunky banjo and wailing accordions. It’s one part cabaret, one part lonely train ride under darkened skies. With lyrics immersed in gloom and morbid fantasy, there’s no doubt that this band has (rather depressing, bohemian) vision.
Don’t expect to be quietly escorted into the show. The album’s abrupt opener, “Ashes,” zips the listener under the big top without so much as a ‘welcome, please be seated.’ This isn’t my first complaint with Robert Skoro’s (Martin Dosh, also touring drummer for Andrew Bird) production. With a fairly straightforward, albeit intentionally drab, mood and a thirteen track album at his fingertips, Skoro does little to encourage variety in pace or atmosphere, preferring instead to throw folk instrument after minor-chord-wheezing folk instrument against the wall to see what will stick. Cacophony can be cute, but eight tracks or so into The Snow Magic, it starts to get a bit delirious.
Dark Dark Dark can’t entirely be countered by the album’s faults. “Benefit of the Doubt” provides a fine introduction to the interplay between Nona Marie Invie and Marshall LaCount’s voices. Hers parades about on the same stage as the Regina Spektors and Amanda Palmers of the world while his strolls more quietly and tentatively, echoing the distant banjo chords. As oppressively desolate as the title promises, “Dig a Grave” shows the band’s otherworldly ruminations in their most effective incarnation. Where else do solemn accordions find a home but on sea chanties and songs about ghosts getting drunk (“Your ghost can stop and stay for a round/ I would truly be living it up”). “Junk Bones,” keeps things short, simple, and upbeat, but no less depressing, as Invie bounces through lyrics such as, “All that rope you hang your neck with/ It left a mark/ But now you’re a ghost/ You can find a home away from here.”
After a while, though, even the threat of becoming a ghost sounds tiresome. I mean, all the spirits that haunt The Snow Magic seem to do is wander about, have an occasional pint, and generally bemoan their ethereal existence. Boring, but by no means frightening. The fat needs to be trimmed to the tune of four or five songs. “A Spell for Letting Go” changes keys just enough times to be annoying while tracks like “Ferment in Dm,” “New York Song,” and “All the Things” might as well be the same sad ballad. Rollicking accordion, departed lover, yadda, yadda, yadda.
The Snow Magic has a few lively perks, but the ocean of minor chords and sheer length of the album is enough to kill any chance of replay value. There’s certainly enough filler here to bury the dead, but if they’ll only return to endlessly sing blasé folk tunes, can’t we just let them live?