by Tim Crisp (@betteryetpod)
In his book of essays 31 Songs, Nick Hornby advises anyone listening to Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop” to approach with a heightened sense of caution. Leave the lights on, maybe consider calling off work the next day. It may sound a tad hyperbolic, that is of course only if you’ve never heard “Frankie Teardrop” before and if you have, you read the essay nodding in wholehearted agreement. A tradition stems down from the 10 minute anxiety fest from Suicide’s eponymous 1977 debut, one where tones, lyrics, and presentation all coalesce to provide a particular weight. Darto bears that torch and their new LP, and best release to date, Human Giving is a record not to be taken lightly.
Human Giving is a paranoid, tense, and at times breathtakingly lush record that feels like the culmination of an evolution that started with the band’s beginnings in 2012. Formed by half-siblings Candace Harter and Nick Marsh, early Darto recordings are heavy, spacey, deep woods post-punk. Conventional by no means, but if an Achilles’ Heel existed it was a reliance on heavy parts. Human Giving is more careful and deliberate, setting focus on the journey and filling its landscapes with warm tones over a more calculated build.
A wash of synth sounds on the opening instrumental “GLDS” fades out as a programed drum fades in to introduce “I Am.” The voices of Harter, Marsh, and drummer Gregory Flores whisper in intention “I am the weight of this world / Holding onto what can be done / I am the means to an end / A place for change to began again / We are one.” Delayed guitar, strings, synth, and slide slowly enter and begin careening before a razor sharp stop brings the song back into the next verse. The song carefully walks a line of tension, there’s discomfort in the instrumentals, sort of fanning a flame but never throwing you into the fire. “Omniscient” follows and operates similarly to “I Am” only when the band breaks away on “Omniscient” it explores some really beautiful territory. The song is a standout, an easily accessible track that fans of big indie acts like Beach House and Daughter would instantly fall for. Darto is a decidedly different band however, a sinister tone sitting beneath even their prettiest moments.
When the band released “Omniscient” as a single at the beginning of last year, it felt like a new phase of Darto had begun. Rerecorded for Human Giving, the new version sharpens the tones and lets Harter’s vocals carry the track. It’s a proper realization of the song’s strengths, an assessment which can be applied to Human Giving as a whole. While most songs are built upon electronic tones and programmed drums appear throughout, the presence of lap steel, strings, and even the vocal layering on songs like “No Self” and “American Storyteller” (which feels like a field recording) give Human Giving a tangible naturalism. Nick Marsh’s baritone sets deep roots in “Fell Ill” one of the record’s gentler moments. While he is tender when he chooses to be, Marsh approaches “Aging” with anxious dread. The track lyrically is rather affirming, but there is a deep unsettling in Marsh’s delivery of the lines “Your right to be here / Your right to grow aware.” It’s in his voice and it’s a feeling that runs the course of Human Giving—there always seems to be something waiting around the corner.
There’s a veil of mystery surrounding Human Giving that comes from Darto’s limited web presence and what feels like a purposeful lack of available biography. You’re not sure who they are or where they come from (and unless you dig who plays what). Little is given to contextualize the players or the sound. You are simply given this document. A collection of uniquely constructed, masterfully delivered songs that invite you into Darto’s dark, anxious, but oftentimes beautiful little world. It’s more than enough.