Review Summary: Boy, that bass.The Darcys's
third record to renowned Toronto-based label Arts & Crafts signifies a departure in any imaginable way. Following their captivating self-titled label-debut and their excellent interpretation of Steely Dan's studio opus "Aja", Warring is the third part in their trilogy of albums on A&C and their first album of original material after over three years of writing and six months of intensive studio work (remember, "The Darcys" was initially finished around 2010, but was re-recorded, remixed and remastered after the departure of then-lead-singer Kirby Best).
As The Darcys themselves aptly put it, "Warring is moving forward. It's learning in motion."; on that note, album opener "Close To Me" shows elements of both "100 Mile House" and "Black Cow". From the first note on the Rhodes piano, the listener immerses into a dream-like universe, a sonic landscape not too dissimilar from their previous work. However, as the track progresses, the differences become apparent: synths and distorted sounds follow the track to its seemingly unfulfilling end. But as with their self-titled record, the void is quickly filled up by exploding indie rock jam "Hunting". With an incredibly powerful low end, the track recalls "Turn On The Bright Lights"-era Interpol, but features a mind-blowing falsetto performance by frontman Jason Couse. Being one of the fastest-paced tracks on the record, it is also one of the most apparently guitar-driven and closest in style to their previous work. And boy, that bass.
Elsewhere, other elements of their sound have now taken a much more prominent position. On lead single "The River", bass and beats take up a lot of sonic space and show a rhythm-dominated side to The Darcys that was formerly pronounced prominently in their remixes only. Meanwhile, on songs like "Horses Fell", "747s" or "Pretty Girls", synthesizers take on the duty of carrying the song, while the guitar melodies hover over, beneath or besides the rhythm section and vocal lines.
It can be attributed to Tom McFall's production and Dave Schiffman's mixing that all the different layers of sound never seem to get into each others' ways. Unlike "The Darcys", where different instruments blurred into a big wall of sound, on "Warring", every melody remains crystal clear, every drum punches and every bass guitar stroke pumps the song forward. "Muzzle Blast" is perhaps the most prominent example to showcase the brilliant production. Synths, piano, guitars, beats merge smoothly and create an powerful as well as monumental sound bed that would work perfectly accompanying a blockbuster movie. The same could be said for album closer "Lost Dogfights", where a bombastic opening section is married with a slow-paced "post-soul" jam.
It was the textured guitar work of tracks like "House Built Around Your Voice" and "Glasnost" that earned The Darcys lots of favourable comparisons to Radiohead, but it is missed sorely on "Warring". Still, delicate piano work tries to make up for that. Rhodes-driven "Itchy Blood" recalls "The Darcys"'s "Shaking Down The Old Bones" or "Aja"'s "I Got The News", but unlike in these songs, the guitars remain much more blurred, much more distorted, with their role taken over by meandering synthesizer arpeggiators. As the electronic beats die away, the track makes room for album centerpiece "The Pacific Theatre", the odd ball seemingly being the only computer-free, drum-free song on the record. Couse, using the softest voice one has possibly heard by a male singer, delivers a haunting vocal performance singing "As I lay dying / I hope that you'll make it through / you'll make it through" in a glacial falsetto final.
It is remarkable that this is the most definite and sincere moment lyrically on an otherwise deeply cryptic record. But let's not forget that "Warring" was conceived with an eye towards the big studio opuses. In that sense, "The Pacific Theatre" is perhaps the most telling song. It is not just a usual piano ballad - the galloping echoes of Couse's voice always linger in the background to come to the front in his breathing pauses, destroying the notion that there is anything "pure", "acoustic" or "intimate" on here, or on any studio record.