[Arts & Crafts; 2013]

There’s a lot to be said about Warring, the third album from Toronto four-piece the Darcys – but finding an entry point to talk about it isn’t particularly easy. The music on Warring is tricky to pigeonhole, shifting between typical genre stop-off points numerous times during a single track. It’s also an album that thrives in its full format, capturing a beautifully nervous and ambiguous mood and itching about within it. Although Warring has many great singular tracks, it isn’t an album you can advertise with one song while doing justice to its full context. Put simply: Warring is an accomplishment, and it takes time and attention to detail to fully realize this.

What the Darcys do especially well here is work as a singular unit, crafting songs that aren’t defined by their lead instruments, but rather by the often barraging, subtly undulating feel. Guitar and keyboard tones and textures are mixed together in a way that requires a few listens to fully register what you might be hearing while the bass slips between being pressing and quietly distorting. Even lead singer Jason Couse’s vocals are something more resembling an instrument rather than a simple channel for lyrics. His range can come off limited on first glance, verging on breathless at time (he virtually disappears during final moments of “Muzzle Blast”), but he judges and captures the best of his ability, like on the high rising notes on the chorus of “The River,” or on “Hunting,” where he sounds like an animal shrieking a sort of warning call across a field at night time.

The exception to this rule is the piano ballad centrepiece, “The Pacific Theatre,” which consequently captures the skeleton of what Warring is all about, stripping away a lot of the fanfare, and relying on nothing more than a few sparse Matthew Robert Cooper-like chords and melodies and Couse’s desolate vocals. It also allows one of Warring’s hidden strengths to come into the limelight for a brief moment, that being the intricate sonic detail painted into each of these tracks. On “The Pacific Theatre” a strangely poignant digital camera beep is heard at one point, and it feels like it would be capturing something Victorian in style. On “The River,” there’s pleasure to be taken from dissecting the wavering vocal melodies in Couse’s hooks that only burn them into your memory more, while the dark and moody tones that open up “Close To Me” seem to capture a sort of aural equivalent of an optical illusion, like they’re moving about while staying stationary.

While the details are important, The Darcys are still more then capable of working in a bigger scope. “Pretty Girls” and “747s” are the most anthemic tracks here, but they don’t sound pastiche at all. Instead they puff up the chest of someone who has been breathing shallowly for thirty minutes. There’s something cinematic about Warring, too, playing to the description they wrote about the album: “[Warring] is moving forward. It’s learning in motion. Competition and survival, letting go to persevere. It is anxiety about the future and the triumph of life in the moment. It’s victory on will alone, the force that eradicates failure as an option.” The album plays to this sort of paranoia, sounding insomniac at points (“Close To Me,” “Lost Dogfights”) and like it’s found a release at others (the lush flourishing riffs on “Horses Fell”; the fuzzy guitar chug of “Pretty Girls”). Like the album cover depicts, everything feels like it’s hanging by a thread, if it hasn’t already fallen to the ground.

Most of the time, though, it’s wavering between states, and it succeeds as a whole because it’s at its best when it’s like this: the release of the tension on the chorus of “The River” is a golden moment because it never sounds like it’s fully resolved; “Itchy Blood” is as fidgety as the title suggests; and “Muzzle Blast” sounds like a mind racing, obsessing over misconstrued memories again and again. It’s a sort of monochrome madness the band capture here that they go on to explore over forty minutes.

As much as I imagine Warring fits into its proper context as the third part of a trilogy of albums, I can’t say I’ve partaken in The Darcys or last year’s AJA. Still, Warring most definitely works as a singular product, providing an effective chasm to easily fall into once “Close To Me” breaks through the floor, like a nightmare suddenly coming to life. Although “Horses Fell” and “747s” do sound inherently similar, they explore different extensions of the same key. And “Itchy Blood” writhes about a little too long on its own, but it helps the album flow better, allowing the sinking chords of “The Pacific Theatre” to feel heavier than they are. These aren’t huge quibbles; Warring works and succeeds despite them. While you might not be able to easily ignite a conversation about the album, listening to it over and over will most definitely start a chain reaction of contemplative thoughts and theories about what you’re hearing.