Saintseneca

Dark Arc

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Columbus, Ohio's Saintseneca began as a unit that distilled and expanded upon the inspiration of folk music from the Appalachian range: the place songwriter, frontman, and lone original member Zac Little hails from. However, through extensive D.I.Y. touring, two previous EPs, and a full-length (2013's acclaimed Last), they've gelled into a band whose sound equals all the places they've been, rather than merely where Little is from. Dark Arc, Saintseneca's debut for Anti, was produced by Mike Mogis. Despite its primary use of layered harmonies and acoustic instruments -- guitars, mandolins, banjos, dulcimer, baglama, drums, saw, and other hand percussion -- they also employ organs, synthesizers, pedal steel, electric guitars, samples, etc. whenever necessary. They are no longer the folk band whose charm lies in homemade sensibilities and execution, but a rock group whose approach embraces neo-psychedelia, folk, and indie pop. There are post-punk influences here, too: check the unabashed use of the Cure on "Happy Alone." Little's songs are catchy musically, though they tend to be wordy, and his reedy, emotive baritone would be better served by more economy. Some of the finer moments here include "Daendors," with its bright balalaikas, dulcimer, acoustic guitar, low-end drums, handclaps, and soaring harmonies (courtesy of bandmates Maryn Jones, Steve Ciolek, and Glenn Davis). It is, despite a melancholy lyric, as bright and intoxicating as sunshine after a long winter. "Takmit," with its barn-dancing foot stomps, handclaps, 12-string guitar, and bulbul, fuels an intimate love song. The tender, strange, and compelling title cut features group instrumentation tastefully colored by warm reverb and elegantly layered vocal harmonies in a lilting yet off-kilter cadence that moves to and fro until it all erupts in a psychedelic country sprint. "Uppercutter" possesses a perceptive, clever, melodic hook and intelligently contrasts low- and high-register piano with bowed banjo, dulcimer, autoharp, electric and acoustic bass, and timpani, but its overly emotive lead vocal mars it. Dark Arc is a mixed bag. Its ambition and sophistication are obvious, noteworthy, and easily displayed. Its flaw lies in Little willfully sublimating this gifted group's readily identifiable root sound inside easily name-checked (and often generic) referent peer sources, which in effect dulls the presentation somewhat for those outside the indie rock mainstream.

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