Del Rey – Darkness & Distance

3 out of 5

Label: My Pal God Records

Produced by: Jason Ward (engineered and mixed)

Evolving way beyond the very Chicago-y (i.e. Tortoise) influences of their debut album, Speak It Not Aloud, Darkness & Distance hits you hard with its sense of space and exploration – a theme absolutely enhanced by the digital-blips cover and sciencey song names – from the get-go, organic 7-minute growths of guitars and drums and electronics washing over you and pushing and pulling in exciting ways.  I’m sold on the disc by this point, conceding that the non-guitar/bass/drums bits still don’t mesh perfectly with all else except on the opener – which was something that held their debut back as well, a need to work in these extras when the group is plenty strong without them – but the compositions are just so bold and entrancing that it doesn’t really matter.

But I forget – always, every time I listen to this disc – that that magic starts to fall away in the middle of the album, transforming into something a little less rocking, a little more Red Sparowes wide-eyed landscape instrumentaling (more observation than exploration), then wrapping things up on the compelling – but still quite different from the intro tracks – Vega, which looks all the way forward to the studio-flourished sound of their (as of now) final album Immemorial, patiently layering things on such that you can’t tell when each bit was slipped in, including bagpipes that should totally be out of place but totally, totally work.  This shift in sound results in a batch of tracks that are by no means bad, or by no means uninteresting, they just don’t make as much of a splash stood next to the large and looming Asimov and Dust Huntress songs that announce this version of Del Rey as ready for battle.

In retrospect, what we’re hearing, here, is the band gearing up to deliver their best balance of bombast and warmth, the followup A Pyramid for the Living; not knowing about the eventual existence of that album when I first heard D&D, though (silly me), all I could do was latch on to these seven tracks, which I did with fervor, though romancing the first two songs into (in memory) of whole disc’s worth of stop-and-start rocking and outer space sound effects.

To be clear, the whole album is worth your time.  But the change in tone is notable, and doesn’t best service a seamless listen, suggesting something that’s going to pummel you instead of the more patiently nuanced tracks to follow.  Sequencing absolutely could have tightened up this experience, though that might only have highlighted that slight disconnect between the electronic stuff and the instrumental-trio stuff, which works best when the group plays off of it (like on the opener) and not when it’s the centerpiece.  Regardless, Darkness & Distance registered Del Rey as an act who were definitely willing to gather their influences to make something new, and thus did have me very eager to see what would happen next… my eagerness happily being rewarded.