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Artist: Dara

Album: Dara

Label: Ecstatic Peace!

Review date: Sep. 16, 2002

Lo-fi Synth-Pop/Noise

Dara lists a curious set of influences: in her press kit, she name-checks noisy, dissonant artists like Masonna, Melt Banana, and Albert Ayler. Then, elsewhere, there’s Depeche Mode and Orchestral Manouvres in the Dark. These curious lists explain both everything and nothing about where Dara’s coming from.

Dara’s new self-titled Ecstatic Peace LP does feature plenty of noise, in the form of ubiquitous sheets of processed guitar squall —“Buzzed” is based on swarming, distorted pentatonic lines, while “Moon” is smothered with keyboard-driven feedback. And the influence of synth-pop is present too, with simple Casio beats and vintage keyboards galore.

Still, Dara’s music has a bedroom-y quality that has little to do with the artists she mentions in her press kit. If there’s one quality that OMD shares with Albert Ayler, it might be a sense of certainty that lets the listener know what the artists intend to do from the second they start playing. OMD will woo you with metronomic beats and crisp pop song structures, while Ayler aims to bowl you over with his huge, wailing saxophone tone.

Dara’s intentions, on the other hand, aren’t immediately clear; she seems to be singing mostly to herself, her voice distant and sporadic. Also, the coats of distortion that cover most of this record sound home-recorded, and they mostly accompany the songs, rather than destroy them. Dara, then, is closer in spirit to Medicine’s The Buried Life or the Swirlies’ lo-fi moments than to Ayler or OMD. Neither the noise nor the songs (by “songs” I mean the melodies, chords and lyrics) are ends in themselves; rather, they help each other go down easier. The noise makes the songs feel a little thinner, and the songs make the noise a bit less harsh.

Dara doesn’t display much of Medicine’s pop sensibility, either, though – the songs wander a bit, and Dara seems to be more interested in noisy textures than in writing obvious pop hooks. When I play this record, I often find myself frustrated by what it isn’t: it isn’t especially poppy, and the noisy elements aren’t even close to being confrontational. Yet, pop and confrontation clearly were not what Dara was looking for on this album, so it’s probably my problem, not Dara’s, that I don’t quite know what to make of it.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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