Slackjaw – Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour

I’ll never quite figure out why some independent bands generate buzz and become a common reference point among indie fans and others seem to shine in obscurity. But sometimes it’s a damn shame, as in the case of Slackjaw. I rarely hear of anyone who knows of this Portland, Ore. trio, but after several albums, nationwide touring, and a new album and label, their time may have finally come.
Darkest Hour is a brilliant piece of post-hardcore emphatic rock that picks up where their previous release on M-Theory Records, 2000’s Curvature of the Earth, and improves on that album’s sound. Still present are the tight, melodic guitar lines, Eric Schopmeyer’s edgy yet beautiful voice, intrinsically woven piano, pounding drum rhythms, and soaring song structures. There’s not doubt that this band rocks, but they don’t hurl it in your face, instead preferring to take you for a ride in their emotional and powerful songs.
Starting off quiet and melodic, the first song flows right into “Unscathed,” which begins with a shouted “1-2-3-4!” Here the piano makes its most vibrant presence, as the song is led by its light tones and a rolling, deep drum line. On the more laid-back “One Too Many Mornings,” Schopmeyer has a kind of hushed, early-morning quality to his voice as he sings in the band’s descriptive and cryptic style, “downstream a river delta flows into the blue sea / but up in these near stagnant channels / each night feels more or less the same / and all the days are so slow going by.”
There’s more of an edge to “Unlucky Ghost,” one of the band’s best songs yet, with chugging guitar and some herky-jerky rhythms and yet an almost desperate, melodic ending. Showing off another side, “White Noise” is quiet and subtle, even incorporating some cello to resonate with the piano and guitar. Showing their punk-rock roots, “Your Beauty, the Sunrise” has its more up-tempo, emphatic power-rock moments, led by the band’s impeccable rhythm. And “All That Remains” finishes with a light, chiming, intricate number that flows beautifully, setting a kind of stark and somber tone to finish the album.
So what is it about this 10-year-old Portland band that hasn’t yet made them an independent rock mainstay? Perhaps it’s that they combine Cure-like elements into their empowering rock. Perhaps their long songs are too involved for the average listener. Perhaps it’s their far-away home. But the band carries on after all that time, and through that adversity, Darkest Hour is likely the album to vault them into your hearts.