First time I heard this record, I had my hands poised in writing position, ready to write about what I thought about this album. Some pun on their band name was boiling around my head, I’m sure. I’d crack a joke about how Darts are bad for your health, and the crowd would roar with belly-rocking laughter. I’d pause for dramatic effect, and with the ice broken, I’d launch into some critical response that would go on to win a Peabody and a Pulitzer.
But fuck, the awards don’t belong to me. Unfortunately, my award season is going to have to wait a year longer, and the ironic Bjork swan dress is going to gather dust in the cupboard for 365 days longer. Because Melbourne-via-Bendigo spaghetti-punks Darts have got a cinematic masterpiece on their hands. You reckon this is how Scorsese felt when he finished Taxi Driver? Or how Beethoven felt after polishing off the last notes of “Symphony No. 5”? Or how L Ron Hubbard gleamed when he made his first million off Scientology? A majestical feat that shouldn’t have been possible, and yet, here it is, laid bare in front of us.
‘Below Empty & Westward Bound’ is a pummelling record from start to finish, on par with the wildebeest stampede that killed Mufasa. Songs like “Westward Bound” and “Pony Up” have the thrashing spirit of At The Drive In being fronted by Isaac Brock. These are headbanging moments, grilled and stoked in searing bright flashes of guitar wizardry, and bolstered by yelping defiant shouts. There’s also additional elements in play that help distinguish these moments of ecstasy from any other excitable, hyperbolic jam – slow tidal waves of a tangled noise finale for “Solitary Refinement”, splashes of classic rock posturing in “Traveling Aardvark Cashmere”, and the occasional, but always welcomed ghostly addition of Ally Campbell-Smith on vocals, such as album standout “Aeroplane”
But ‘Below Empty & Westward Bound’ isn’t only similar to the saddest scene in the Lion King because of Darts’ ability to crush spleens with their bulldozing rock. No, it’s because these guys implement all the emotional impact of that scene into their music as well. There’s an innate sadness, anger, regret and loss available in all the aspects of their album. For example, when Angus Ayres questions “I’m gonna lay real low, so they don’t know, so where we going now?” between soaring fiery bellows of guitar. Or when he snarls about a lack of identity on “Dead”, screeching the titular phrase with a the kind of aggression and command usually reserved for attempts at mimicking the “THEY CAN TAKE OUR LIVES, BUT THEY WILL NEVER TAKE OUR FREEDOM!” speech from Braveheart.
Darts went to the school of 90’s rock for sure, but their teachers were all different. They learnt under the guidance of Albini, the Deal sisters and Brock in equal length, and soaked up their rawness, melodies and knack for catchy indie rock respectively. And then Darts applied this to their own context – with riveting songwriting trapped underneath blazing, nothing-to-lose riffs, they formed a new sculpture from the mould that The Drones built so many years ago.
This album is absolutely incredible. There have been some fantastic records released this year – from The Living Eyes, Love of Diagrams, and Courtney Barnett, to name but a few. However this Darts records succeeds on so many levels, with such a strong array of songwriting on display. It’s an acidic, self-loathing, and grizzled reaction to both personal and environmental circumstances, and it fills you with an energy that is unparalleled to any other rock release this year. ‘Below Empty & Westward Bound’ has got to be one of the finest albums released this year, for sure.
Make sure you head along to Darts’ album launches -June 20 at Shadow Electric in Melbourne, and June 27 at Brighton Up Bar in Sydney w/ Julia Why? and HANNAHBAND.