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Over the last few months, Darts have been like a spectre that has emerged from the Melbourne gloom, seemingly from nowhere, bringing us these beautiful, belligerent musical tales of displacement, isolation and apprehension filtered through the gaze of aggressive 90s guitar rock. And I bet I’m not the only one who has been saying, “Who the fuck are these guys?!”
Below Empty and Westward Bound is a masterfully crafted melee of vicious 90s guitars, snarling and swooning vocals, and pummelling rhythms
I’m sure by now everyone knows they are a five-piece from Melbourne. They have actually been around for quite a while. Back in 2009 they took out an award through triple J Unearthed to play Groovin’ The Moo. But since then they have been relatively silent, biding their time and developing something that isn’t rushed or half-arsed, but something entirely inspired, meticulous and, overall, meaningful. What they came up with is called Below Empty and Westward Bound, and it’s brilliant.
From the get go there will be comparisons with the record that are so obvious that they hardly need pointing out. Yes, there are similarities with Pixies and Modest Mouse; singer/guitarist Angus Ayres delivers an aggressive howl on par with either Frank Black or Isaac Brock, one that is neither derivative or forced, but seems entirely natural. The guitars are angular in the way that Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth‘s were, cutting and crunchy, delivering almost as much passion and emotion as the vocals, and Ally Campbell-Smith’s voice pleasantly offsets Ayres’, reflecting The Breeders and reinforcing the Sonic Youth influence. However none of this seems like tired replication. The quality of song writing is so well refined and mature that it is impossible to consider the band as a cheap copy of revered legends. Darts are on a level of their own, paying tribute to their heroes while simultaneously giving them a run for their money.
Below Empty and Westward Bound is the perfect title for the record. It conjures allusions of escape, but one fraught with troubles, self doubt and an air of mystery. It’s a tense album, hurried and vicious but also delicate and self deprecating. Comanche kicks you in the face with its jackhammer guitars and belting drums. Ayres snarls like a Rottweiler and the pace is relentless. There is a whole lot of punk virility in the rhythms, but it’s coated in melancholic melody through crawling lead guitar lines and Ally Campbell-Smith’s soft harmonies.
Geek takes off before you get a chance to take a breath with wailing guitars that spiral up and down. It’s only when the languid crunch of Aeroplane crawls in does your body body get a chance to relax. It’s a brooding track with a harrowing synth line circling the verses as Campbell-Smith laments about her childhood.
Despite their concrete sonic direction, Darts diversify with what elements they know they need. It’s an incredibly dynamic album for one so relatively basic. They use rhythms to convey emotion, reflecting a post-punk aesthetic that Sonic Youth utilised so well. It’s angry and sad, but infectiously energetic at the same time. On Here Is Down, Ayres growls with such self-loathing you’d think he’s read nothing but Charles Bukowski his whole life: “When i’m feeling used up/And I feel a hundred years old/And they say i’m so young/Oh they say i’m so young.” The guitars crawl around each other, feeding off the vocals before taking flight in a magnificent brawl of a solo.
Below Empty and Westward Bound are two highlights. Fraught with restlessness, the guitar work is brilliant with melancholy melodies ducking above and below the searing guitar crunch of Angus and Andrew Ayres. Pony Up is similarly hurried, relentless and unwavering in its momentum, bar a 15 second breakdown that you could swear is straight out of Good News For People Who Love Bad News.
Below Empty and Westward Bound is a battering record, even in it’s slower moments. My Darling Bendigo is a squalling ballad, tense, rolling and sad; a downtempo end to a frantic and fiery record. The whole thing feels intensely personal, but it’s crafted with such skill that it is entirely accessible. Each element of the record is tight, assured and unforgiving in its emotional potency – a masterfully crafted debut record.
Below Empty And Westward Bound is out Friday 15th of May through Rice Is Nice.
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