Dark Dark Dark
Who Needs Who
Reviewed by Michele Zipkin
Minnesota’s Dark Dark Dark will brighten your day if you’re a sucker for relatively somber, introspective music. That’s definitely the common thread in the songs on their latest release, Who Needs Who. But don’t be fooled by this overarching, low energy-level. Some upbeat Eastern folk-inspired interludes composed of accordion, piano and trumpet, as well as entire backbones of songs, weave their way into the relatively forlorn collection of tunes that make such poignant commentary on the human condition.
Pianist/vocalist/accordion-player Nona Marie Invie sings so soothingly against Americana/ alt-folk instrumentals, played by Marshall LaCount, Walt Clements, Mark Trecka, and Adam Wozniak. She tells stories of dances almost danced, fond memories captured and love attempted to be salvaged. The contour of the group’s arrangements serves as much as a storytelling device as their reflective, almost poetic words.
The title track starts off with an expectedly low-key, piano-driven ballad with Invie singing about her memory of trust and how she’s keeping it closed, “I’ll swallow it whole”, she sings. Piano and trumpet work together to churn out a downtrodden lament that still moves a tad bit, but about half way through ramps up to a sprightly, almost dance-worthy interlude. The piano dances a jovial, Klezmer-like melody accompanied by accordion chirps and trumpet puffs- a little oasis amidst an overall down-and-out song, but that still communicates important human emotions. The most exciting thing about Dark Dark Dark’s album so far is their ability to surprise the listener. In “Tell Me”, which starts off even-keel but progresses to become slightly rock-oriented, the idea of longing for a feeling or relationship obstructed by a rough patch already comes through, in the line “I want to live in a time when you cherished me.”
By some contrast to “Who Needs Who”, “Last Time I saw Joe” proves fairly upbeat, hinged on an eighth-note piano hook, and inter-verse “oohs”. Here the song’s subject is reflecting on a past relationship, telling herself “I could take all of the magic that I left here, I left here with you. But where would it go, and what would we do, when everything’s said and everything’s true.” It’s a very nostalgic song like, many of the songs on this record, another being “Patsy Cline”. What an adorable and slightly heart-wrenching song. Its chorus is lyrically comprised of “I thought we’d meet up in a week or two, and slow-dance to Patsy Cline at the bar. But now that you’re gone, my life goes on. I know I said I’d save this last dance for you.”
Although some of the songs of Who Needs Who have qualities that toy with the listener’s expectations, the band may have included a few too many songs you might listen to while walking down rainy streets after having had your heart broken. However, this similarity of mood only bridges the songs closer together. They all inherently possess some element of sadness, of reality’s cruelty, of very human desires that everyone comes to know at one point or another.
The last song of the record includes lush background vocals supporting Invie’s crystal clear singing, in a fairly benevolent number that concludes in a surprisingly upbeat way, with piano building up and trumpets sounding. It’s a lovely way to end an album of stories that capture a longing best conveyed through song. If you like Bowerbirds or Horse Feathers, you’re sure to like Dark Dark Dark.