BY JOSE MARTINEZ
There’s an expectation of how a South Bay punk rock band will sound. While that may not be fair, the beach community south of Los Angeles has a rich punk history, including bands like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Bad Religion, and Youth Brigade to name a few. More recent bands to emerge from the area include Pennywise, and upstarts The Darlings.
I’m not sure if the term “upstarts” works on a band formed five years ago, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re still young. Their third release, Made of Phantoms, starts off as expected—frenetic and punky. While one of the band’s strengths is its ability to create a strong melody to go with its punk roots sound, and never relying on auto tune or pro tools alterations, that also can be seen as playing it safe. And the record’s first few tracks are in that manner; solid but not dynamic.
Produced by Andy Carpenter and The Darlings’ front man Buddy Darling, a big fan of Americana music, the record definitely gets stronger as it builds. By the time you get to “There’s a Madman Livin’ in Waco, the roots rock sensibility really kicks in (think Mike Ness and his solo sound, which is a departure from Social Distortion’s more straightforward approach). “Mr. Morgan Crow” starts off nice and easy and builds to a rockin’ country vibe. “Love Story” is a familiar Darlings’ song as it appeared on their debut release way back when (now is sounds better produced and not so much like a demo).
“Obsession Road” is infectious while “Evangeline,” which includes guest appearances by Jason Cruz from Strung Out, and Jason Freese from Green Day’s touring band, really starts to take on a more classic roots rock sound than your standard issue punk format.
A track like “Hummingbird Wings,” buried towards the end of the record, is a solid gem. It shows a great maturation for the band, adding complexity to their sound, just like the instrumental “With Love, From Rue Morgue,” which delivers a driving resonance that says it all without the use of lyrics.
During the band’s recent performance at the famed Viper Room, where they delivered a solid, crowd-pleasing performance, I thought they still played it safe going with the more straightforward songs, although the Chuck Berry cover was a nice touch. It definitely signaled their love of classic rock ‘n’ roll. While I think The Darlings will always have a firm grip on their punk roots, I think they can make a stronger impact by embracing all their influences equally, and taking a long detour through the land of Americana.
DOWNLOAD: “Hummingbird Wings”, “Evangeline”, “Obsession Road”