Renowned Toronto critic Ben Rayner once notably dubbed The Darcys “pathologically ambitious.” One of the band’s earliest champions, few in the media has ever better contextualized its career, or could set the tone for the record it’s about to release.
In simple terms, Darcys are an alternative pop duo from Toronto, Canada. Currently the band consists of singer and multi-instrumentalist Jason Couse and drummer / lyricist Wes Marskell. The duo is the group’s original core and also what remains of an ever- evolving lineup that’s delivered close to a half dozen releases in as many years.
In more detail, the November 2016 arrival of new studio album Centerfold marks the latest from one of Canada’s most fearlessly creative, adventurously experimental groups, and represents the culmination of almost a decade of pursuing its own limitations.
Over the course of four official releases on Arts & Crafts, the Darcys have birthed two studio records (2011’s self-titled album and 2013’s Polaris and JUNO-nominated Warring), a full reimagining of Steely Dan’s AJA and a 20-minute Southern Gothic- themed instrumental track (2014 Record Store Day exclusive Hymn For A Missing Girl). They have worked with major producers and mixers, toured North America, Europe and Australia, self-produced subsequent releases, and been extensively covered by press from NPR to Nylon.
Through it all, the band remains as unique for its varied approach to writing and releasing music as they have at times been held back by it. But in 2014, with Couse and Marskell intent on forging ahead as a duo, it also set the stage for the band’s greatest self-imposed challenge – making a credible pop record worthy of global attention.
Cue Centerfold: 10 sugary, glimmering songs that pull together glossy production and airtight hooks, including funk-tinged summer anthem “Miracle,” suburban romantic saga “San Diego, 1988” and the sparkling, desert-creased heartache of “Arizona Hwy.” The album, inspired by the shameless maximalist lean of 1980s classics like Back To The Future and Chinatown and the era’s grandiose pop efforts, be they from Bowie or the Bee Gees.
Evolving through a painstaking process wherein the band generated more than 50 songs, and over two years of extensive recording in New Zealand, Los Angeles and Banff, Alberta, the album was produced by Grammy-award winner Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes, Julian Casablancas) with an eye to making truly expansive pop jams that are both retro-tinged but also rooted in the sounds of today.
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“Musicians need to acclimate to the circumstances and realities of the genre they work in and the results they hope to achieve,” Marskell noted in a 2014 Huffington Post op-ed where he wrote on the band’s new direction. “We knew we wanted the record to sound modern, pop-minded and sun-bleached. Once we managed to assemble our production team I was confident we were going to have one of the best sounding records coming out of Toronto.”
That team, which included mixer Matty Green (TV On The Radio, The Weeknd) and legendary mastering engineer Emily Lazar, came together throughout 2014 and 2015 and turned the band’s great pop experiment into a very real record.
“Gone is the epic, guitar-led rock and in its place, some slick studio pop that is primed for mass consumption,” music journalist Cam Lindsay noted via Noisey around the release of the album’s lead single “Miracle.”
But consumption aside, the goals of this project and process are the same for the Darcys as they have always been – to make records that defy the listener to categorize the artist, or pigeonhole a song.
“There was never an agenda to sacrifice anything,” Marskell added in response to questions about whether the band planned to “sell out” with Centerfold. “Was the implication really that we were going to make a shitty record? We’re not really working with a formula and there was never an obvious next record for us. If anything, a pop record seems as logical as anything else.”
But there’s nothing especially logical about it. The escapism 10 songs on Centerfold see the Toronto-based duo exploring consistent themes of and manifest destiny, inspired from the front seat of a borrowed El Camino and several night drives through the Hollywood Hills, looking down on golden coast lines and reflecting on stories of dreams chased, met and just as often, brutally dashed.
It’s a specific perspective on a classic theme, and it sees the band do what it does best – and has sometimes been criticized for – stepping outside of its previous mindset and comfort zone.
Beyond that pathological ambition, one other quotation from past releases sticks out as having relevance in the current context. Writing on Warring back in 2013, Esquire Magazine insisted the group embodied “the type of recklessly bold artistic ambition that is significantly harder to find today.”
Reckless? Maybe. But whatever you want to call it, Centerfold cements the fact that The Darcys always have and always will, make music on their own, unabashed terms.
01 Studio City
03 San Diego, 1988
04 Virtual Reality
05 Arizona Highway
06 Coming Up For Air
07 I Want It All
09 Black Diamonds
10 Lip Service
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