It would be difficult to listen to Dark Dark Dark’s third, full-length album, Who Needs Who, without drawing comparisons with Regina Spektor and Anna Plaschg. The first track, of the same name, has all the dramatic, ponderous piano of the latter before seguing into a music hall section reminiscent of the former. Vocally, too, Spektor and Nona Marie Invie share similar quirks – a tendency to the same embellishments and a similarly honest, unaffected style, not to mention a refreshing happiness to remain in the lower registers.
However, these artists only serve as a base point of reference, and nothing quite prepares you for DDD’s soaring leaps into unchartered territory. The sheer variety of instruments alone provides fascinating dimensions – after all, few other bands enlist the contrasting sounds of the accordion, clarinet, bass, percussion, piano and electric banjo. But this is not to over-egg the pudding – ‘Without You’ is strikingly inventive in its simplicity – a simple, descending bass line, sparse percussion and French-café sounding accordion provide an atmospheric backdrop to the heart-wrung lyrics, ‘Without you I am a river my love/And without you I lose what is good to the sea.’
Moments like little hooks to the heart are plentiful, such as on the agonising ‘It’s a Secret’, in which a clarinet performs a mournful duet with Invie as she sings as if from beyond the edge. This intensity is continued in ‘Hear Me’ where lyrics are skeletal, revolving around the visceral cry of ‘Hear me!’ This is a ‘cliffs and raging sea’ piece of work, essentially a break-up album and ode to the split between Invie and other founder member of the band, Marshall LaCount, last year. Considering they’ve had to tour and work together ever since, it’s unsurprising that some of the material is sown in despair.
Despite it’s emotional depths, Who Needs Who retains an wry smile and is a magnificent follow-up to the critically acclaimed Wild Go, demonstrating that DDD have lost none of their inventiveness or soul-laid-bare passion. With so many cooks they could so easily spoil the dish – what happens instead is a work of staggering beauty, breadth and originality. An album of the year, to be sure.