Those Darlins

Blur the Line

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Those Darlins went through a couple of changes after the release of their excellent 2011 album Screws Get Loose, losing one member (guitarist Kelly), adding another (Adrian Barrera), and then switching up their sound again. After going from a rambling country band to a tough garage punk combo, the group bulk up their sound on 2013's Blur the Line, and with production help from indie rock lifer Roger Moutenot, smooth down the wild edges and careening performances that worked magic on Screws Get Loose. Instead, their approach here is more restrained and predictable, with both the songs and the sound failing to catch fire in any appreciable way. Where they used to sound like the kind of band who might fall off a stage mid-performance and maybe steal your car in the middle of the night, now they sound like a band making career moves. Posing nude on the cover of the album certainly does nothing to change that impression; neither does their decision to hire Moutenot to produce. He spent years squeezing Yo La Tengo's sound until there was no excitement left; here he manages the same trick in only one try. Everything sounds so considered and perfectly placed, from the tasteful layering of the guitars to the always under control vocals, that there's almost nothing to grab hold of as the album rolls listlessly along. The production even manages to tame the wild and woolly vocals of Jessi Zazu, and if you've ever seen the band live, that seemed like an impossible task. Even the few rockers that break up the monotony of the big ballads that dominate the record fail to make much of an impression. "Optimist" and "Baby Mae" would have been rollicking good times if recorded and played the way songs were attacked on Screws; here it sounds fine, but that's really not good enough. Why settle for fine when you're used to thrilling? Yes, they wanted to mature and delve into some deeper lyrical territory, and that's fine. It's just too bad the end result is so uninspiring. A band can mature and grow without becoming a bland shadow of their former selves; it's been done many times before. Those Darlins fail that task miserably on Blur the Line. Thanks to the introspective nature of the songs and the mannered production, they took something totally alive and wild, and wonderfully fun and exciting, and not so magically turned themselves into just another dime-a-dozen indie rock band. It's the worst kind of vanishing act a band can pull off, and anyone who fell in love with the band because of Screws Get Loose needs to steer well clear of this sad mess.

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