The Sadies

Darker Circles

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2007's New Seasons captured the Sadies at the top of their game in the studio, with Jayhawks guitarist Gary Louris at the controls as producer; it was the best studio effort yet from a consistently fine group, and for 2010's Darker Circles, the Sadies brought Louris back to help them work their magic. Maybe lightning isn't supposed to strike twice in the same place, but Darker Circles comes close enough to thrill anyone who enjoys the Sadies, and if this doesn't absolutely top its immediate predecessor, one can easily debate the relative merits of the two the way Beatles fans go back and forth on the brilliance of Rubber Soul and Revolver. True to its title, Darker Circles does have a deeper tone than New Seasons, which speaks of a vague, elegant sense of dread; the echoes of ill fate on "Another Year Again," the ineffable sadness of "Cut Corners," and the approaching thunder of "Another Day Again" kick off this album in gloriously uneasy fashion, and the guitars of Travis and Dallas Good make bad vibes sound prettier and more artfully pleasurable than anyone else alive. The mood of the albums lightens a bit in the second half; "Postcards" is a righteous bit of Bakersfield-style country, and "10 More Songs" is an inspired pre-fab medley that leaps from buzzy psychedelia to pensive folk-rock to anthemic alt country, with several other stops along the way. But the old-timey acoustic stomp of "Choosing to Fly" is just moodiness pushed in another direction, and the solace of love in the Byrdsian "Violet and Jeffrey Lee" proves to be unfortunately short-lived. The Sadies take us to a fallen world on Darker Circles, but it's never gloomy for its own sake, and even at its most baleful, this music is written and performed with too much life and too much inspired beauty to sound genuinely doom-struck. In the grand tradition of their Canadian forbearers the Poppy Family, the Sadies know how to make sadness so pretty it makes listeners feel good, and if you don't think such a paradox is possible, you clearly haven't heard Darker Circles yet.

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