Dark Mean: Samuel The Phoenix (EP)- Unassuming yet filled to the brim with musicality; dynamic yet low-key, meshing acoustic folky-ness with distorted guitars, steady bass lines and loose drums. Dark Mean‘s new EP, Samuel The Phoenix, is meant for reflection. With only four songs and clocking in at 18 minutes, you would think this EP would be over before you know it, but you’d be wrong. Each song has so much content, musically and lyrically, that I was taken by surprise when it actually stopped. One of the effects this has is leaving the listener wanting more. I feel that by the final song, as a listener, I am so immersed that I want the story to continue.
The genius of Samuel The Phoenix is in the arrangements done by Dark Mean. For a three-piece band, they achieve beautiful layering of multiple instruments. With this layering and effects of varied instruments, the songs cross genres and aren’t tied to one specific sound. On one level, there is the folksy and slight acoustic-country swagger of the acoustic guitar. This, paired with the loose drums would make for an awesome modern folk album alone. But then the slight fuzzed out bass and rounded out, distorted, simple guitar riffs add in a garage rock feel. And yet somehow, with these elements alone, the EP stays on the laidback side. It’s not lazy or quiet, but it has a toned down feel that let’s you know these songs aren’t meant for a stadium, but for a small venue that smells like unfiltered cigarettes and whiskey. Then, to top it all off, the layering of the music continues with light, drawn out synths in some songs and horns and brass instruments in another.
Now, because this EP is so short, I will just give a quick synopsis of the two songs that represent the amount of variety packed into this record. ‘Albatross’, the second song, is a little up beat musically, the drums more centered as opposed to being more nuance focused in the first song. The lyrics set the tone of the song right away, “Keep it up/ don’t stop for me”. And once the chorus hits, horns and brass instruments earnestly blow in. This song also has driving bass lines that fill the place of the acoustic guitar. The yearning and broken harmonies, accompanied by synth organs and a pick up in drum beats gives this song a great 80′s feel. And when I use 80′s and great in the same sentence, you should know I mean business.
‘High Heaven’ is characterized by longing vocals, lightly picked guitars and atmospheric keys in the background. This song is different from the rest because it lacks drums. But the rhythm comes from another element of the song. My favorite line in the song is, “Now I’m waiting in England/ with this damn dark beer”. And I think the imagery of being in a smokey pub, slight intoxication, fits wonderfully with the musical arrangement. The picked guitar line has a slight swing to it while the melody is more straight and fixed. This gives the song a woozy rhythm that would be ruined if percussion overrode it.
So there you have it. Dark Mean capture something beautiful on Samuel The Phoenix that many bands struggle to do on a full album. It is difficult to make a subdued album that still has movement and energy and Dark Mean were able to do just that…9.5/10