Say hello to Darwin Deez. Who is Darwin Deez? Back in ye olde high school days, there was always one kid placed in an AP class because, much like Whoopi Goldberg did in “Sister Act II,” some educator saw great potential. That is Darwin Deez — in the rough that is the recording industry, he is the diamond with a splendidly reprehensible haircut.
Where you and I have a larynx, Darwin Deez (neé Smith) possesses a host of seraphim performing French horn études. Hyperbole. But in an indie rock world that lauds your twitchy Thom Yorkes and your shrugging Julian Casblancases (Casablanci?), it’s nice to hear someone with a voice that’s just as special as the music. Or, in the case of Deez, that’s better than the music.
Songs For Imaginative People is a fine outing, upbeat and creative, quirky but not cloying. (At face value, it’s one of my favorite albums of the young year.) After five listens or so, a question arises: What the heck is Darwin Deez waiting for? Consider “Moonlit,” a fun track where the singer executes his schtick admirably. For the verses: Employ a robotic, def-jam-talk-sing style; use SAT words and turn aurally pleasing phrases. For the chorus: Break into some proper melodic WAIT A SECOND, DID MY COCHLEA JUST SMILE?
Deez shifts into falsetto like it’s an automatic response from his nervous system. Pure of tone (and heart), his sound is “‘Band of Horses: The Broadway Musical,’ starring Max Bemis.” It would be nice if, on otherwise solid tracks, he didn’t confine himself to his staccato, “experimental” box and just sang like the damn champion that he is.
Wishing for perfection aside, Songs For Imaginative People more than earns its keep. “(800) HUMAN,” a fine slice of existentialism, beats Beck at his own kooky game. Musically, some influences are more obvious than others; early- to mid-’90s U2 deserves a credit on “Free (The Editorial Me).” Throughout, though, it’s obvious that Songs is all Deez’s oddball baby.
Deez’s carte blanche use of computerized sound effects and vocal eccentricity puts his songwriting in the back seat, where it just does not belong. Every line of every song is hyperdescriptive, excitedly pinging and ponging between narration, conversation and stream of consciousness. It’s like reading a Twitter timeline set to music. “You Can’t Be My Girl” gifts us with lyrics like “Dear, you’re slurring Gorbachev,” “I’m as sober as a marble,” and “Your best friend is a red cup.”
I’m a firm believer in evaluating an album as-is, not comparing it to what you wish it was. So, Songs For Imaginative People is a delightful screwball romp. While Deez could probably do better, we’ll just have to enjoy what he wants to do.
You are under no obligation, however, to tolerate the animal pelt hung haphazardly from his skull.
(1) “(800) HUMAN”
(2) “You Can’t Be My Girl”
(8) “Free (The Editorial Me)”