Review Summary: A propitious, darker-tinged electro-pop record with stellar ambiance, charming vocals, and beautiful instrumentation.
Looking back on your high school and undergrad experiences, what was the single most infuriating aspect of it all? Apathetic instructors, rent-a-cops masquerading as a police force, the absurd social stratification that existed between the different cliques and crowds? Maybe, but not for me. The bane of my existence - even to this day - is a frustration you may possibly even share with me: group projects. Admittedly, in high school, stress and anxiety are at a minimum. Maybe you build a remote control car in physics or bullshit your way through a PowerPoint presentation on Central America, but at least you get to do it with the same buds you've had since you were in pre-kindergarten and you know the grading rubric is a joke. But at university? Good luck having an egalitarian group where the work is divided up evenly. In my experience, I've noticed you're stuck with one of three options, and good luck if you get stuck with all three: the deadbeat who ends up dropping the class the week your assignment is due, the hypersensitive nutjob who freaks out about aesthetics versus content and believes his/her ideas are so much better than the group consensus, and/or the person who isn't exactly the brightest cookie in the drawer ("Jom? JOM! My computer won't turn on! I've hit the button, like, 47 times and it still won't turn on!" and when you say, "Well, is it plugged in?" you shouldn't expect to hear giggling and remarks about how dumb that person is, BUT YOU DO). Yes, your grade in The Class You Need a 4.0 in So You Can Get into Med School is riding on these knuckleheads, and your obsessive-compulsive micromanaging self is going to do all the work and you're going to ultimately burn yourself out, right? This is my nightmare.
Fortunately, I almost always had good group members (probably because I'm a nice, easygoing bloke), where collaborating with people seemed effortless. Such a scenario parallels how Andrea Wasse and Space came together to form Digital Daggers. Originally brought together by their mutual label to co-write music for developing pop artists, the two like-minded musicians realized that they were writing music that had an idiosyncratic voice unique only to them. What this suggests is that Wasse and Space immediately gelled as songwriting compatriots: their personalities, musical ambitions, and palpable desire for perfectionism - right down to the minute details - made their partnership seamless and instantly productive. For example, when learning something, do you prefer to be active and hands-on, or more passive and can glean what you need to know from casual reading? For Wasse and Space, songs they would envision together wouldn't be replicated by other musicians to the level the two had originally conceived in the studio; in other words, they felt something was lost or missing between the songwriting and performance stages. To solve this problem - and to address their desire to formally play live again - Digital Daggers was born, and the band's earliest days saw Wasse and Space gain notoriety as their first original songs and covers found their way in various television spots and film soundtracks. The release of The Devil Within
- Digital Daggers' debut LP - sees the band continuing to build on the momentum they have established with their darker-tinged pop-rock creation, while simultaneously introducing new ideas and techniques into their sound.
When describing The Devil Within
, it is best to examine both musicians individually before acknowledging that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Primarily a guitarist in his previous bands, Space began to take on a more multidimensional role with his solo project (Space [AUS]
), incorporating piano, keyboards, synthesizers, and other stringed instruments into his repertoire, and his instrumentation expands even more with this record. With Digital Daggers, his ethereal, ambient soundscapes are extremely rich and resonant, beautifully complementing Wasse's sometimes brooding, sometimes soaring vocals. His piano melodies, in particular, are most impressive. For example, the main passage heard in "Come Crashing" brings to mind Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells
melded with the opening piano lines of Van Halen's "Right Now", but with a much more eerie, haunting vibe; similarly, "Where the Lonely Ones Roam" is carried on the strength of a gorgeous piano melody supported by a solid, reverberating bass line and funereal synthesizer. "Still Here" is arguably the most impressive keys-driven track, sporting an excellent orchestral accompaniment and electronic drum complement to further augment the track's aura. Space hasn't completely removed guitar from the equation, as "Can't Sleep Can't Breathe" and "The Devil Within" feature cutting, effect-laden main riffs, "Set You Straight" is a more straightforward rocker, and the bass in "Bad Intentions" punches the track along with its bite.
Meanwhile, Wasse delivers the record's co-written with admirable grace and spirit. Her lower range is sturdy and unwavering and her higher register is powerful and robust; Imogen Heap, Dolores O'Riordan, and Natalie Merchant are three comparable vocalists, although Wasse's smooth crooning is her definitive trademark. Her creativity in juxtaposing emotions is especially noteworthy; for example, she sounds delightfully angelic on "State of Seduction" and especially "Still Here" ("Every night, I dream you're still here / A ghost by my side, so perfectly clear / When I awake, you'll disappear back to the shadows with all I hold dear") and devilishly wicked on "Bad Intentions" and the title track ("I will be here when you think you’re all alone / Seeping through the cracks, I'm the poison in your bones / My love is your disease / I won't let it set you free 'til I break you"). Stylistically, the way her vocals swirl and segue between each channel is an interesting dynamic to The Devil Within
- her vocals envelop you, as if she were a ghost moving in between speakers - although there are moments when her vocals seem overly digitized. Despite this quirk, Wasse's best performances are on the aforementioned "Still Here" as well as "Where the Lonely Ones Roam", "The Devil Within", and "Fear the Fever".
The Devil Within
's themata frequently touch on thoughts of love (or lack thereof; alternatively, the notion is better described as loneliness), feeling lost, and introspective self-discovery. Lyrically, these themes have wide appeal because they are all felt at some point across the life span, making the music easily accessible and relatable to most listeners. Granted, this appeal may be lost on insentient machines or those who prefer vapid, emotionally-contrived, ultimately artless music, but for the lonely woman who feels isolated in a new town, someone who recently experienced heartbreak, or someone needing an assuaging reminder that it's okay to feel upset or sad but that life will turn around, The Devil Within
is a wonderful remedy.
The aforementioned topics similarly hit home for both musicians, as they have moved geographically (Ontario and Australia, respectively, to Los Angeles) as well as professionally, trying to cultivate a new start after closing the book on their previous musical endeavors. The album's programming and production, aside from some rare oddities, are absolutely stellar, and the crystal-clear vocals and instruments are mixed extremely well, which each instrument and vocal layer incontestably heard. Similarly, the vocal and guitar effects are diverse and varied, with mostly positive results, especially with the wide array of guitar pedals Space has at his disposal.
The Devil Within
is characterized by its darker, frequently melancholic atmosphere, best captured with a set of good headphones or a surround sound system that allows the music to thoroughly encompass the listener. There is a marked improvement on this record compared to their debut EP Human Emotion
, and there is certainly signs that the band will continue to improve and grow with subsequent records. The Devil Within
's accessibility, creativity, and delicate milieu make for a soothing listen, although Digital Daggers don't shy away from adding a little venom or vengeance to their music. Ultimately, this record is a propitious, engaging debut LP from Wasse and Space, who continue to refine and sharpen their moody, "dark pop" musical identity.
Where the Lonely Ones Roam
The Devil Within
readers are still free to stream five tracks from this record ("The Devil Within", "Where the Lonely Ones Roam", "Bad Intentions", "Still Here", and "Can't Sleep Can't Breathe") on the Staff Blog below: