Album Review: Takotsubo – Darling Imperial
So you’re in middle school, it’s 1998, and your big sister’s best friend happens to be spending a lot of time at your house. She’s dreamy – dark hair, bright eyes, a musical laugh. She’s sad and lonely and only you, armed with the retainer case in your cargo pants pocket, can save her. She puts a CD into your sister’s boom box and the music immediately makes you feel like you’ve found some way of connecting with this beautiful girl, this (gasp) high schooler.
Then years pass, you never see her again, and all of a sudden you are old and fat and a compulsive eater of hummus. One day you’re driving along after a weekend spent at the Dairy Queen, and the radio plays the very song you were listening to when you smiled and made eye contact with this dream-girl. The memory is distinct.
Yet now that you’re older, wiser, more weathered by the world, the song somehow doesn’t resonate with you. In fact, it’s kind of not good. More specifically, you remember why you never listened to the music without being in the presence of your big sister and her friend: it’s downright bland.
Sadly, this little parable is the completely non-autobiographical yarn that arose in my mind when listening to Darling Imperial’s Takotsubo, a six-song EP released in December of 2010. Unfortunately, this record missed for me and, aside from the voice of lead singer Sarah Sadovsky, is that big-sister-friend-music become lame memory. It’s not that anything particularly stands out negatively – in fact there is nothing distinctly bad about this record. By the same measure, there isn’t a single thing that is memorable besides the profound similarity some of these songs have to the cannon of pop music.
Take, oh I don’t know – fifty percent of the record. “Veils,” begins with a vigorously strummed guitar coupled with a beautifully recorded electric lead part split between both channels. It also happens to sound eerily similar to “All Along the Watchtower.” Two songs later, “last day,” could be the Sarah Plain and Tall version of “Say it Ain’t So,” minus a memorable chorus. The guitar tones don’t help a bit to overcome the Everclear-level blandness – they’re not harsh enough to be grating and provocative, not smooth enough to sound like anything distinct.
This is not to suggest that Darling Imperial are lifting ideas. They are able to craft a tune that’s their own and take it in reverberant directions. The album’s opener, “true times,” while not a lyrical powerhouse, is a decent kick in the ass as first tracks go. It is a rollick that combines layers of acoustic and electric guitars, which is a texture that works very well. But the fact is that after so many listens, all I can vividly recall about takotsubo is my unexcited familiarity with what it has to offer. To me, it’s indicative that this band may still be forming their identity in the eternal pursuit of a unique voice. They’re pros, but their strength is clearly in performance and not composition.
The lone indelible mark this record leaves can be found in the vocal performance of Sadovsky. The band’s website throws names like Chrissie Hynde and Aimee Mann around, and I don’t necessarily disagree, but I think Sadovsky is able to capture elements of both and synergize it into something unique. She has the cool of Hynde and the command of Mann; she’s at once detached and not, her voice is so slick that you can’t be too bored.
Ultimately what this record has to offer is a grab-bag of different sounding songs, a survey of 90’s college radio rock and production ideas – all of which you’ve heard before – performed by a group of professional musicians. There’s nothing offensive or bad about this music, and maybe that’s part of the problem. It’s an album that doesn’t take a single risk, and in any day or age that makes for a mediocre listening experience.
“True Times” from the album Takotsubo