I first came across Darwin Deez in 2010 when he played in Manchester at the Ruby Lounge, and found his live set refreshing largely due to his lack of pretentiousness and wacky nature. The New Yorker's appearance isn't that of your average indie kid, with his corkscrew hair (complete with ragged headband) and his super-tall, super-skinny frame. There's also his tendency to break into dance in between each song, with the help of his band, that makes him come across as some sort of hipster Michael Jackson for our modern era. These theatrical aspects don't marr his music though - the music always retains its prominence. His first album (self-titled) was a nice, catchy collection of indie-pop songs that did relatively well following its release. There were a few popular hits ('Radar Detector', 'Constellations', 'Up in The Clouds') and overall it was a tidy, off-kilter album which held promise for Deez's future offerings.
Songs For Imaginative People doesn't suck up to the masses like you might have expected it to. Often, artists get greedy and complacent once they've received some love from the public, but no matter what you think of this album, you can't deny that Deez keeps us on our toes with his unpredictable songwriting. That isn't to say that the album is some sort of underground phenomenon. It's more an intriguing LP of indie-pop that doesn't rely on the centrality of the hook or the chorus. It opens with '(800) Human' and straight away you're dragged into Darwin's introverted world. Electronic, jittery drum samples lay the groundwork before being sliced apart by Deez's stop/start guitar strokes, something he has made his own over the course of his two full-lengths. The way that Deez shifts key in his guitar playing is brilliant; his songs constantly climb in intensity and evolve over 3-4 minutes. The opener comes to a conclusion with some pleasant vocal harmonies and again the Radiohead-esque drum patters return till the song ends.
Next we have 'You Can't Be My Girl', a fairly straightforward (in subject matter) soft rocker about a fucked up party-girl that finds Deez asking "Damn, what drugs aren't you on? And can I come along? You're wasted and stoned whilst I'm sober as a marble." The lyrics are poetic and quirky, and to establish that it's Deez we're hearing, there is a nice fuzzed-out guitar solo thrown in for good measure. His rhyming skills are great, if not a little predictive at times. But the majority of his songs are fun and work well even if the lightness sometimes works against the themes of heartbreak and pain. His wordplay reminds me, just occasionally, of a less complex Isaac Brock at times. The two men are very different in their musical styles, but Deez's ability to construct rhyming couplets with powerful metaphors does remind one of the Modest Mouse frontman.
Track three is 'Moonlit' - another highlight. The first half of the album really is is much better than the second. There is more variety due to some irresistible moments in each song. Those special moments just aren't there in the second half. Maybe that's because I prefer the heavier, more ambitious offerings as opposed to the softer, textbook love songs. But yes, 'Moonlit', danceable as ever, guided by a groovy bassline and shamelessly 80's drumbeat. The guitar sounds like it was stolen from a Cyndi Lauper tune, but works so fucking well. You have to admire the layers and the structure of Deez's songs, they really do impress at times. And it is unmistakably him; the stop and start guitar crunches are ever-present and then we have another wild guitar solo to lead us out. Deez has a great voice, blending his talky-style narrative with some awesome falsetto singing.
'No Love' and 'Good to Lose' are the other two highlights for me. Both are dripping in funk, and as a huge fan of the genre it really took me pleasantly by surprise when I heard them. 'No Love' is stripped down with a great, simple slap bassline that is understated but so fucking cool. The song has a sombre vibe but is the kind of thing that could be played towards the end of the night at any indie disco. 'Good to Lose' sounds so much like 'Suck My Kiss' by the Red Hot Chili Peppers that it's almost unbelievable, but as a die-hard Chili Pepper it's something that I embraced wholeheartedly. John Frusciante's guitar style is there in full force, and the driving bassline makes you wanna party. And as always, we have Deez's self-deprecating lyrics, summed up with "the new face, of last place."
As I said, the second half of the album didn't blow me away, especially in contrast to the effortlessly cool and surprising first half. 'Alice' isn't necessarily bad, with its tale of long distance love that wasn't meant to be ("You're pitcher perfect in this light beer, nevermind the 24 hour flight here"). It has some decent stream-of-consciousness lyrics, but isn't musically spectacular. 'Redshift' is a nice enough ballad, and I suppose it was necessary to throw a slower number or two into the mix, but even its anthemic chorus failed to bowl me over. The album's lead single is 'Free (The Editorial Me)' and it really isn't that good. I've never cared about singles and always judge the album on the entire finished product, so this doesn't phase me one bit. But the samey, predictable chorus is nothing to shout about and really should not influence whether or not you choose to listen to the album, because it doesn't represent it as a whole, not one bit. You can see why it was chosen as the single, though, even if was probably written in about 5 minutes.
Deez is rather ambitious, maybe even brave in his approach to his new album. He could have capitalised on the success of his first LP by sucking the corporate dick and selling out, but instead he chose to self-produce the album in exactly the way he wanted to. And I respect that, always. Overall, Songs For Imaginative People gives us a darker shade of Darwin, which results in something that is less commercial and radio-friendly than his debut, but who gives a fuck about that? If you're into indie-pop and you want something a little bit unconventional, this album is definitely worth a spin.