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King Darves - The Sun Splits for the Blind Swimmer

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Artist: King Darves

Album: The Sun Splits for the Blind Swimmer

Label: De Stijl

Review date: Jul. 16, 2008

I had to laugh with Tony Rettman’s liners for The Sun Splits for the Blind Swimmer. Not only has he accurately speared Devendra Banhart when referring to folk singers 'trying to sound like a nineteenth century druid,’ he’s hit the nail on the head re: the long-term damage done to the listener by underground spewage and experimental effluent. But he also makes it hard to deal with King Darves on his terms. Rettman’s notes, sharp and perceptive as they are, position King Darves as an effect, or unintentional critique, of freak folk’s cause. (Besides, it’s always seemed strange that folk music got the bum rap in the new age: surely its basis in tradition should gird it with sturdier legs, more able to withstand the wear and tear of one thousand hipsters clambering to get a foothold’s worth of subcultural capital?)

King Darves is a good songwriter – better than two-thirds of the artists he’s about to be compared to. His gruff, deep, vibrato-stained voice will make it hard for some to fully grasp his songs, but once you’ve adjusted to it as his natural delivery, his slightly nasal whinny feels just right. He’s given to strolling chord changes that don’t flinch at beauty, and his arrangements are thankfully spare – there’s no clutter here, and he even makes autoharp sound like a good idea, which takes some doing. And in the shakers and slightly clunky percussion on songs like “Fishhook,” you hear unexpected traces of bossa nova, something that’s not been done properly within this meta-genre since Tower Recordings covered Os Mutantes’ “Q Delmak-O.”

A few songs feel underdeveloped: “Seabird” could do with more structural work, and “Oh I’ve Come A Ragin’ Sun”’s movements aim for theatre but lack impact. But it’s hard to write and perform songs of this genus, at this point of scenester saturation, and not end up an instant cliché. King Darves dodges that bullet, and if The Sun Splits… isn’t an unqualified success, it’s a strong first pass ‘proper’ for the New Jersey troubadour.

By Jon Dale

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