Phil Istine/Sweet But Deadly: The Darts (US) - "Me. Ow."
Not even a year has passed since the brash’n’saucy garage-psych quartet who hail from Phoenix [AZ]/Los Angeles [CA] began their recording career. And now here is a full debut LP proper, following their previous two six-track EPs (released as a single album via Dirty Water earlier this year). In this whirlwind of activity it’s pertinent to ask whether two dozen songs in a year of action mean anything substantial could have been produced.
Having spent some time with Me.Ow the answer is a firm ‘hell yes’. Those EPs only showed glimpses of what they are capable of, too often the garage rock simply passable. But their songwriting knob has been turned up to 11, and this LP blew my poor weather-worn English socks right off. Kicking off with recent single ‘The Cat’s Meow’ is one way to show you mean business: it prowls from the speakers like the bastard offspring of every trash band of the past 60 years. Low slung throbbing fuzz bass, ear-splitting drum splashes, thick sludgy guitars and vocals pounding out a circular riff straight from the bowels of Hell. That’s before we even get to the horror organ solo which finishes you off right and proper. One can just imagine Screaming Lord Sutch wishing he had such a backing band back in his heyday.
‘Gonna Make You Love’ is more of a sludge/drone-focused follow-up that harks more to the heavy Black Angels/BJM modern psych sound, and is no less affecting for that. ‘Not My Baby’ shows off their love of ’60s girl group, bouncing along with a breezy vocal and guitar melody in the verses that then gestates into a twisted voodoo chorus. And there’s always a top notch Farfisa passage after the choruses too. ‘Get Messy’ resembles Thee Headcoatees doing the twist with The Cramps egging them on stage left. ‘Strange Days’ carries itself in a decidedly unsettled manner, suggesting The Doors having the worst hyper-trip possible, whilst ‘Don’t Freak Me Out’ is the song to make the guitar fans weep in delight at its punishing garage tornado.
‘The Generator’ is a punk annihilator from the Jon Spencer cannon, with a chorus that oddly echoes ‘Beat Surrender’ by The Jam, but isn’t any poorer for it. ‘I Made A Wish’ will knock seven bells out of every innocent heart from here to Timbuktu. And ‘Caught In The Devil's Game’ was brazenly written to flatter Jack White III, as it could have been lifted straight off Lazaretto. Perhaps that is a bad thing [plagiarists!], but they get away with it so easily, aided and abetted with several dollops of panache. Talent borrows, genius steals - right?
The Darts, to British audiences, have given themselves a mountain to climb with that name, as the 70s/80s doo-woppin’ Darts saw serious top ten action. Still, they probably never made it across to the States, so innocence is bliss. Nicole Laurenne (organ, vocals: formerly of The Love Me Nots, Motobunny, Zero Zero), Rikki Styxx (drums, vocals: The Two Tens, The Dollyrots, Thee Outta Sites), Christina Nunez (bass, vocals: The Love Me Nots, Casual Encounters, The Madcaps) and Michelle Balderrama (guitar, vocals: Brainspoon) are not exactly shy and retiring types, so they can probably rise above any of that nonsense anyhow. The record speaks for itself, and in the long run that is all that matters.
The album finishes with a stuttering take on fellow feline lovers The Trashwomen’s 1994 punk classic ‘Batteries’, which they recorded straight to vinyl on Third Man Records' "Voice-O-Graph" recording booth. Impeccable taste suitably displayed, it is a fitting end to this low-culture/high-reward record that deserves an appreciative widespread audience [like you!].