I’ve often thought that if I ever start a band, I’d recruit a good female singer with an impressive stage presence and beautiful voice, but maybe such forced construction can’t work in rock music. It just doesn’t sound to me like Drea feels that strongly about these songs. There seems to be a distance between the pretty vocals and the brasher music. This is perhaps an odd view, and I usually strive to assess albums removed from backstories or general context, but it seems to affect the music in this instance. I also could be totally wrong and she’s written all these meaningful songs which are incredibly dear to her. However, I hear no real passion, energy, spirit, or unhappiness in Smith’s voice, when compared with other singers like TORRES or Sharon Van Etten for example.
There are some great songs dotted about in Brightest Darkest Day however. Invisible Scream is the strongest track with a great walking fuzzy guitar part, clashing drums that build to a striking finale, along with sexy-languid 90s drawling vocals. Nothing I Can Say has a pleasant melody in a woozy swirling last-track vein, ending the album on a high but also hinting that a stranger murkier direction might suit the band better. The running order of the album works well too, with the opening track’s fading in and out with prominent Drums and Bass reminding me of a lighter Joy Division mixed with Beach House.
Second track Smoke & Mirrors is one of the weakest however, with a dull hammering guitar part that goes nowhere. Don’t Go has a delicious rhythm section, sweet multilayered cooing vocals and a catchy chorus that marks it out as another standout track. I like the idea of an interlude included before Time too, the break in momentum working very well in a similar way to Faust Arp from In Rainbows. The song Time itself also serves as a quiet moment before the punch of That Ain’t Right. That Ain’t Right is one of the purest pop songs with a sense of urgency and bite to it that the other songs lack, but it is a holdover from an earlier EP.
Lead single Do You Think You’re Enough? has a storming Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitar part and strut about it, but it’s structurally quite dull and repetitive. It seems to want to be a floor filler at a club’s rock night, but some of the other songs would arguably be more popular, if Don’t Go was sped up perhaps. I’m often baffled by single choices, so please correct me if I’m wrong but I would pick most other songs on the album instead of Do You Think You’re Enough? The direct and simple singalong nature to a lot of the lyrics, such as Paper Doll’s “I’m out of tune, I’m out of place, Can’t come back to you, I can’t see your face” work well enough to serve the purpose of singalong indie, but few lines really linger in the memory. Paper Doll has a smooth slide-guitar part and a thumping chorus but the vocals are curiously low in the mix. If the vocals were louder and had a bit more oomph to them then this could have been a much more powerful song.
This recurring notion of “could have been” pervades my general opinion of Brightest Darkest Day, although there is some fun in this “unlikely combination” that could potentially mean some better music in upcoming albums. It is a fairly strong album however, and I’d certainly be intrigued enough to see them live. The production generally seems a bit thin, with the metallic shiny drum sound feeling a bit off in Everyone Says for example. I feel like I personally want some more blood or sweat in the record, rather than the detached clean feel to songs that pretend to be dirty. Although there are some good hooks and fun moments here, this is a light album that pretends to be dark, which could have been something more substantial and interesting.
Words: Joe Fuller