In the summer of 2010, I managed to find my way onto an obscure album sharing website, where band names like Frog Eyes and Mogwai were used as reverently as Bruce Springsteen’s in Rolling Stone. I noticed one band was receiving more attention than others from users on this blog: a North Carolina-born, Wesleyan University-attended, New York City-based indie-pop group by the name of Darwin Deez. All the band members adopted the last name of the lead singer "Deez," a shtick similar to that of The Ramones and Los Campesinos! The frontman, Darwin, who is featured on the album cover of their debut, has a tall, lanky frame, curly hair that extends beyond his shoulders, and a thin mustache that all hint at his nerdiness that soon becomes apparent after listening to their music.
Darwin Deez’s quirky lyrics and the band’s upbeat attitude drive its music, even in live performances. Their live set is entertaining in a couple different ways – not only do they play all their music to perfection, but they also perform dance interludes at several points throughout the show, including a medley that ends with an on-stage, band-only mosh to Rage Against the Machine. Songs for Imaginative People, their sophomore effort, follows very much in the dance steps of the first album, albeit with more complicated moves and patterns.
Their self-titled debut album, which came out in 2010, was surprisingly refreshing – power-pop at its finest. The simplicity of songs like “The Bomb Song” and “Up in the Clouds” went down fairly smoothly, with unique guitar riff patterns and Darwin Deez's nerd-rock vocals to make things interesting. “Radar Detector” was featured in the background of a Sobe commercial, introducing them to the national public, if only for a brief 30 seconds. For some odd reason, Darwin Deez never made it into the collective musical conscious on this side of the Atlantic. Whereas “Radar Detector” was chopped up to fit to an advertisement in the U.S., it placed on the UK Singles Chart and the UK Indie Chart. Darwin Deez was headlining shows throughout the United Kingdom, and the debut album actually was released in the U.K. almost a full year ahead of its official U.S. release date. Nevertheless, it spread across the internet, making its way to the U.S. digitally before it was available in physical form.
Last week, simultaneously in the U.S. and U.K., they released their new album via Lucky Number Music. Songs for Imaginative People finds Deez hitting his stride, sounding more comfortable thinking outside of the box with his songwriting. The band has moved away from simplicity and has ventured more into adventurous song structures and complex rhythms and riffs. Deez has become more comfortable with his guitar skills, which have always been phenomenal, beginning with a solo mid-track on the very first song on the album “(800) HUMAN.” The band uses obvious 80s pop influences and other alternative rock cues, while managing to stay within their unique “intelli-pop” vibe. The first single, “Free (The Editorial Me),” takes a hard rock track about self-confidence and morphs it with a quieter ballad in the form of a letter from Deez’s conscious, telling him where he has gone wrong in his quest for self-empowerment. Both the self-titled debut and Songs for Imaginative People have themes of yearning and confusion associated with love, but still the songs remain danceable and lyrically infectious. The big hook in “You Can’t Be My Girl” vocalizes Darwin’s internal indecision about a girl who parties hard and “slurs Gorbachev” (which Darwin despises), but knows how to have fun (which Darwin feels he needs to learn). “Constellations,” the first single from the debut, is reborn with “Redshift” with science metaphors for love abound, while clever wordplay drives “All in the Wrist.” Even though the lyrics do border on unbearable cheesiness, there’s a sincerity to Deez that makes the music beautifully nerdy. At times the mid-song sound or tempo change can be a little off-putting, but Deez ties the song back together, molding this expansive musical landscape into a complete package. The whole album is a fun listen for music nerds and average pop-rock fans alike.
With more fun dance-rock songs in their repertoire thanks to Songs for Imaginative People, Deez is sure to finally and deservedly break through in the United States. The then-virtually unknown Darwin Deez did a brief tour in the United States right before the U.S. physical release of the self-titled album, stopping at Schuba’s in January 2011 to open for Bon Iver drummer S. Casey as part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival. The band will be back at Schuba’s, this time to headline, on March 22nd.