On their third full-length album, Alive As You Are, the members of Darker My Love drop the whole neo-shoegaze, Jesus And Mary Chain worship of their first two albums and instead engage in a sampling of different ’60s sounds. For those who heard their contribution to the recent 13th Floor Elevators tribute album, The Psychedelic Sounds Of The Sonic Cathedral, the metamorphosis isn’t all that surprising. It comes off like a giant tip of the hat to the pioneering psych acts that allowed the bands that marked their earlier output to exist. At the same time, to the band’s detriment, it only furthers the theory that Darker My Love is a group that seems to favor competence over originality. This results in an album that, while avoiding any catastrophic missteps, is simply unengaging at times, which is in turn more disappointing when you consider singer/guitarist Tim Presley’s time in the Nerve Agents, a turn of the century hardcore act that just about personified the phrases “attention grabbing” and “frantic energy.”
To be fair, it’s not an entirely wasted offering. Presley and bassist Rob Barbato make for great vocal partners, constructing lovably nostalgic melodies and harmonies that recall some of the better music of the era they’re paying tribute to. The verses of “18th Street Shuffle” sport vocals that bring the Beatles’ Indian excursion “Love You To” to mind, but with peppier instrumental backing. Keyboardist Will Canzoneri establishes himself as a far more vocal presence, his parts carrying the melody of “Split Minute,” and offering woozy textures to the aforementioned “18th Street Shuffle.” Midway through the album, starting with “Rain Game” and ending with “June Bloom,” the quintet hits its biggest streak of victories with a series of more country-tinged tunes, wandering waist-deep into fields of pedal steel guitars, high-flying backing vocals, and rootsy acoustic parts.
Admittedly, it’s a bit unfair to compare Darker My Love to the Nerve Agents, especially this far along in the former band’s career, and because capturing that sort of inferno-esque energy never seemed to be their goal. On their first two albums, it was understandable to pick up a sense of blown-out cool from the band, considering the brand of feedback and reverb drenched psych rock they were playing. It’s just a hallmark of the genre. But with the layers of noise stripped away, only the detached attitude remains, which instead reveals a band that, while technically gifted and reverent to their source material, may not be entirely comfortable with the new skin they have slipped into.