Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this afternoon’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Darker Still, a Canadian rock outfit that has previously been lauded as “easily one of the best bands on Reverb Nation.” Their newest studio endeavor, a six-track self-titled EP, is due out November 15. Is the collection worth delving into and adding to your collection of indie music come next week? Let’s dig into the EP and find out.
‘Darker Still’ opens with a bombastic effort, ‘Never Too Late.’ The track defines Darker Still’s crisp, well-crafted sound right out of the gate. Their performances are polished, as are their productions. That isn’t to say, however, that the performances are sterile. They’re injected with a unique sense of pop sensibility that evokes classic rock musings through their melodic riffs and infectious choruses. ‘Never Too Late’ is an explosion of good feelings - it’s raw, intense rock and roll with a vintage vibe.
‘Could There Be’ is a much more melancholy excursion through Darker Still’s sound. It’s doused in reverb, sparse synthesizers, and piano noodling. If one was to draw a popular parallel, I’d align ‘Could There Be’ with certain elements of Pink Floyd’s more commercial releases. “I approach your grand white palace; I’ve never seen this place before. The people turn like clockwork to greet us as we clear the door,” Darker Still’s lead vocalist croons in a ballad-esque track that embraces some of the EP’s better lyricism.
‘I’ve Had It All’ is probably the hardest of the six rockers, reminiscent of a blues-tinged Kenny Wayne Shepherd tune or the like. The brass sections are particularly fantastic, and I love the pedal-to-the-metal dynamic of ‘I’ve Had It All.’ That atmosphere is accented even further with a guitar performance that bounces between distortion and a wah-wah pedal to wonderful effect.
As far as compositional tact is concerned on ‘Darker Still,’ ‘Time To Shine’ is likely the most rewarding effort. It’s notably well composed, embracing a level of depth that transcends some of its counterparts. It’s followed by ‘Sunlight Smile,’ an acoustic track that’s accentuated with heavy string sections. At times, ‘Sunlight Smile’ does feel extraordinarily long - the lyricism isn’t terribly original, and it’s the “predictable acoustic ballad amidst a rock album" that doesn't offer anything compelling enough to justify its place on the record.
The finale, the epic ‘Suicidal Journey,’ feels like a 1980s radio hit - and I mean that in a positive light. Darker Still sells the song with a fiery passion. In fact, that’s probably how I’d best classify and recommend the band - if you like acts like, say, Foreigner, you’ll probably like Darker Still.
The EP could have lost ‘Sunlight Smile,’ but other than that, this is an excellent record for what it is: a nostalgic trip through 1980s-style rock and roll that’s particularly well performed, recorded, and produced. I'd love to see Darker Still experiment even further with their sound in the future. They do sound comfortable. They're clearly talented enough to take a step into the deep end in future releases.