Probably best known for the 2010 single “Radar Detector” (which was released on their self-titled album), Darwin Deez, the indie rock band fronted by singer Darwin Smith has now released its follow-up album, Songs For Imaginative People. If, like me, you were unfamiliar with the band, check out the video of “You Can’t Be My Girl,” one of the songs on the new album, and you’ll get a fairly good indication of whether or not this is a band you want to get familiar with. Think it funny and clever, you’ll want to hear the rest of the album—creepy, maybe not so much.
Musically, I’m not sure how different the band is from other indie ensembles, with screeching chords at times, gentle harmonies at times, even at times in the same song. Take “(800) Human” which opens the album. It begins in dissonance and ends in ironic harmony with a parody of the “Lord’s Prayer.” It is as though the dialectic in the music is symbolic of the dialectic central to being human. In a sense, it is in this way that the band’s songs—especially the lyrics—seem to mean so much, even when they seem thoroughly absurd. That is their hallmark; that gives them their unique voice. After all, in an absurd world, what else can be expected?
The professor who taught me 17th century poetry back in the day is more than likely turning over in his grave, but Deez’s songs remind me of nothing so much as Metaphysical poetry. Think John Donne: “Get with child a mandrake root.” Think the hyperbolic promises of Andrew Marvel “To His Coy Mistress.”
Over and over again, Darwin comes up with some unlikely metaphor, sometimes using it for a verse, sometimes carrying it through the whole song very much like a metaphysical conceit. It worked in “Radar Detector,” so why argue with success? Of course, the idea that your lover is a radar detector is a bit easier to parse than what the 800 number might be offering. Still, it surely gets you thinking. In “Chelsea’s Hotel,” he’s tearing down buildings to build a hotel on her heart. In “Red Shift,” he’s an experiment in the girl’s bedroom lab and he’ll build a “collider to smash us to bits.” These are not the kinds of images you associate with any kind of conventional pop song. These are the kinds of lyrics that separate Deez from the rest of the pack.
But it’s not the only thing. He’s fond of puns that some will find clever, while others will roll their eyes. “You loved all of my little quarks,” he tells the girl in “Red Shift,” so “don’t superstring me along.” “Alice” is “pitcher perfect in his light beer.” He plays with language in “All in the Wrist”: “Waste in this place is a terrible thing to mind,” and “Cared do not I, you can words my twist.”
Then there are the eternal, internal rhymes. He has a veritable passion for internal ones. In “Good to Lose,” we get “lawn gnome,” “shop-at-home” and “carpet foam.” Chelsea “smashes up my glasses when she passes,” and has dimples on her simple face. In “No Love,” “I can forget you like I never met you.” In “Free (The Editorial Me),” itself a play on words, he says “We regret to inform you/The norm you conform to.” I’m not sure how much of this kind of thing comes through when you don’t have the lyrics in front of you, but when you see them printed on the page, they are hard to escape. You will either smile and say go to it Darwin, or shake your head, curl your lips and think, there you go again.
And that’s the thing with Songs For Imaginative People. It is not the kind of album that will appeal to a popular audience. On the other hand, the kind of audience that likes its music quirky and unconventional, the kind of audience that smiles when he tells his girl that “the universe is mostly empty without you,” Darwin Deez is writing for you.