The history of husband and wife bands has been well categorized (see Fleetwood Mac, Low, Yo La Tengo, The White Stripes (although they deny it)). This is not one of those bands. These four Midwesterners (not a female among them) inexplicably chose this innocuous band name but at least found the perfect title for their second full-length album.
Dark Dark Woods is a moody and dramatic affair, as the tone of the title might suggest. Mixing lush instrumentation with a more subtle production quality, the band puts its own unique touches on the indie-pop genre, turning out an impeccable album. Mixing analog tape and digital recordings, layered instrumentation with a raw sparseness, and moving lyrics that hint at both Gospel and folk rock, the band strikes the perfect blend between lush beauty and stark mood.
That contrast is demonstrated nicely on the opening two tracks, where “Comp Jam” builds upon lovely yet never overstated instrumentation a la Yo La Tengo and “Haven’t Got a Friend” takes a more low-key approach that reminds me of early Songs:Ohia. The latter song even showcases the dichotomy, using stark acoustic guitar for most of the song but adding in textured guitar tones in more climactic moments.
Most of the other tracks make use of that mixture: lush and well-layered instrumentation with songs that range from quiet and moody to intricate and climactic, usually in the same song. “England Lives” is a lovely, quieter track that swells with bombastic drums and cymbals and layers of guitar. “Mulberry Squeezins” takes a more electronic and swirling approach. Maybe my favorite track, “Support Yourself” has a Yo La Tengo-esque flow, mid-paced and mellow, while “I’ll Avenue Body, Graceland Lord, I’ll Avenue Life” introduces horns and layer after layer of instruments for a Clem Snide-style fest of introspection and exposition. I hear similarities to bands like the Jim Yoshi Pile-Up and Some By Sea in the gradually building “Thanks for Understanding,” which stands out to me for its brilliant and sad lyrics, such as “Who I am / I’m broken bones,” which repeats over and over as the guitars and drums build and build. And the textured, nearly shoe-gazey guitars on “You Remain Unloved” strike deep at my musical heart.
Repeated listens of Dark Dark Woods have only cemented this album as one of the best albums I’ve heard recently. It’s instrumentally brilliant, with enough varying influences and styles to make every track a must-listen. The lyrics and tone are moody and stark, at times sad and at others uplifting. This is the kind of album that makes you seek out a band’s back catalogue, and, after taking a break from music writing for a while, this is the kind of album that reminds me why I love independent music.