Tim Darcy redefines the solo record on ‘Saturday Night’
Mike Donovan | Tuesday, March 21, 2017
As frontman for the Montreal-based noise-rock quartet Ought, Tim Darcy dealt largely with the macro. The group, comprised entirely of American expats, painted harsh images of Montreal’s urban nightlife with serrated guitar strokes, tweaked deadpan deliveries and needlepoint lyricism. Darcy and his bandmates saw themselves as a third-party link between Montreal’s lucid streets and Ought’s poignant post-punk. The grew their mythos out of detachment.
Darcy’s debut solo effort, “Saturday Night,” stands in stark contrast to his work with Ought. It replaces the macro with the micro, detachment with introspection and dissonance with melody. Of course, these abrupt shifts are to be expected; we’ve seen them before. Look at the unabashed pop of Lou Reed’s self-titled solo debut in light of his mind-bending experimental work with the Velvet Underground, or maybe Paul Westerberg’s heavy-handed embrace of the guitar ballad as he methodically established his hegemony over fellow punks in the Replacements. The noise and clamor of band-produced music typically gives way to intimacy when a brilliant songwriter is involved.
Darcy is a brilliant songwriter — or at least on his way to becoming one. If you pull back Ought’s cold angular arrangements, you’ll find that Darcy’s Ought lyrics prefigure the keen sensitivity that defines “Saturday Night.” “I’m no longer afraid to die / because that’s all I have left,” Darcy concedes on Ought’s signature track “Beautiful Blue Sky,” shedding an individual light on the sociopolitical rant that precedes it. The decrepit nature of the macro world, Darcy seems to say, frees the individual to explore without fearing the consequences.
“Saturday Night” marks the culmination of Darcy’s fearless explorations. He’s no longer willing to hide behind strange chord structures and poetic angst. Experimental post-punk, while it appears dangerous, is actually quite safe. Its inaccessibility serves as an impenetrable bubble, obscuring the musician’s nuanced emotional intricacies in a disorienting fuzz. Pop, on the other hand, has no protective barrier. If you only have a few minutes and a few chords, transparency is your only option.
The album’s standout track, “Still Waking Up,” is also its most accessible. The bonafide love song makes stylistic allusions to John Cale and Roy Orbison and lyrical allusions to the early work of the Beatles. “Waking up alone / Was always a hard day’s night,” Darcy croons over some delightfully rootsy guitar bedrock, “Cause my head is full of popular songs.” The track is an admittance of sorts. He’s pledging himself to pop’s universal affectations over the critic-pleasing calculations of post-rock.
“First Final Days” embraces these popular affectations with greater referential depth. The instrumental piece would be right at home behind the vocals of indie-pop trailblazers like Galaxie 500 and the Pastels. The bustle ode brings the listener to a time when the edgier crowd favored the off-beat melodic mannerism of twee and indie-pop was synonymous with controlled chaos.
“Tall Glass of Water,” the album’s second single, conjoins two distinct pop-structure songs in an uneasy marriage, inserting a sliver of rage into the new palatable imperative. The first minute borrows heavily from the Velvet Underground’s three-chord rippers on “Loaded,” while the second two present cohesive Strokes-style instrumentation with a post-punk sheen. The Frankensteinian structure makes the track, like the monster, both alarming and genial.
Darcy doesn’t completely abandon the disgruntled edge of his Ought days. “St. Germaine,” a spiritual twin to “Still Waking Up,” takes its predecessors’ pop sensibility and colors it three shades darker. The noise-rock traditionalism of the title track, the piano fueled balladry of “What’d You Release?” and the shoegaze of “Beyond Me” — which recalls Cocteau Twins — accompany “St. Germain” in safeguarding Darcy’s familiar dark side. The resulting B-side exhudes an air of shocking morbidity, perfectly counterbalancing the ephemerality of the A-side.
“Saturday Night’s” unstable position between the pop and the experimental marks a major advance for the noise rock and Americana subgenres. Darcy proves intelligent intimacy can glue the diametrically opposed disciplines together. His honest songwriting effectively renders genre barriers pointless.
With this in mind, it would be more accurate to say that “Saturday Night” reestablishes the purpose of the solo record. Darcy’s solo debut isn’t just an excuse to try a softer and quieter genre. It’s a quest to dig deeper and explore the variable caverns of his inner life. It’s an expansive, standalone artistic statement as opposed to a mere side project.
Artist: Tim Darcy
Album: Saturday Night
Tracks: “Still Waking Up,” “St. Germaine,” “Tall Glass of Water”
If you like: Ought, The Velvet Underground, Kevin Morby