It’s been a long time since I talked (read: exploded with joy) about Dark Mean. Their first EP, frankencottage (lack of capitalisation intentional, grammar fans), was a tumultuous mix of strident vocals, banjo melodies, occasional electronic beats and a whole lot of awesome. music box, their new four-track follows a similar idea, but pushes it into an altogther louder, more anthemic territory.
All the hallmarks of Dark Mean’s first effort are still present, but the eclecticism of those original songs has been ramped up once more. The title track takes a simple drumbeat and a strummed acoustic guitar as a base and adds classic rock guitar flourishes, a gentle piano accompaniment, occasional banjo plucks, outbursts of quiet synths and plaintive violin. And that’s just the opener. After that we’re treated to muted trumpeting, country slide guitar, marching drums and some quintessentially North American indie vocals. It could all get a little over the top, but it never seems like a pastiche, like the band are trying to create something purposefully too full. Instead, the feeling is one of careful consideration; each new element adds a little something more to the track, but is never allowed to outstay its welcome. And even if you were still dubious about the band’s intentions, they go ahead and prove that they can make something beautiful out of very little on “Acoustic” – an understated little number using just the classic combination of guitar and harmonica.
There’s soemthing very special about Dark Mean, something I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s as if they have some grand plan for their career, like they’re planning each move in meticulous detail, and never letting on more than they want you to know. I say this because of the way their two EPs seem to answer each other by opening the first with “Happy Banjo” and ending the second with “Dark Banjo”. It’s also in the way they seem to hide their roles in the band (and even who’s in the band) without seeming irritatingly obtuse. Even their forthcoming album implies some kind of planning in its title, The Constant K Determines The Fate Of The Universe. It seems Dark Mean, for now, just want us to judge them on their music, which in itself is hard to judge. Mixing an indie-pop sensibility for melody with a wilfully experimental take on the use of instrumentation, this band have not yet ceased to amaze or confound me and I cannot wait to hear more. And more. And more.
You can download the track from below, but you might as well download both EPs for free from the band’s Bandcamp account. They’re brilliant.