Art manifests beauty when you’re convinced the world is devoid of it. Darkest Sour, The Sour Notes‘ latest LP, does just that. When I asked, as a final question in my email correspondence with the band’s songwriter Jared Boulanger, if there’s anything else he wants people to know about the album, he replied: “I hope that the people who look can recognize beauty and find peace in their darkest hours.” Even for those who don’t look, beauty is evident on Darkest Sour.
And the peace that Darkest Sour offers is a sense of solidarity, the knowledge that you’re not in it alone. “On Yer Mark” especially conveys this sense of solidarity. At the outset of the song, you expect something with attitude, maybe a punk song, to come rockin’ out of your speakers. In the first fifteen seconds, drummer Jeremy Harrell bangs out a crashing beat with what sounds like a hammer, and a simple guitar riff is played over and over as if the band were revving up for a full-on charge. But after this loop (turned down to low volume on the recording), you get an easy-going pop song. The foundation of “On Yer Mark” is a progression of mostly major chords that Boulanger strums gently. Harrell trades his hammer (or whatever Craftsmen tool he was using) for a regular drum stick to play a basic snare-and-cymbal pattern that he’ll vary somewhat throughout the song. Guitarist/keyboardist Chris Page plays synth melodies and effects that add mirth to an already happy song. In the chorus, Boulanger lets the outcasts and anyone having a rotten day know that they always have someone to go to: “I will be here to rely on / When you’re left out by the crowd . . . I will be here to rely on / When you’re let down by the crap.”
Boulanger offers, if not his actual company, his music, which will always be waiting as a patient and caring friend, and art is the most patient and caring of friends. Yes — some art is created to criticize and correct, rebuke and chide, shock and disturb. Art rankles us sometimes, and has no intention of being our friend. But so much of it is created with kindness and empathy, and even when it chafes against our sensibilities, art is selfless. A novel, for example, won’t ridicule you for not understanding it nor will it get jealous if, halfway through, you pick up another book. The pages will be waiting when and if you want to turn them. Art only knows how to give of itself.
One of the gifts of Darkest Sour is the recurring message that everything will be okay, which is what you tell yourself when everything is anything but okay. After a while of telling yourself it’s all good despite evidence, you stop believing it. You need someone else to say it for you, and Darkest Sour says it in both music and word.
The opener “Clock Strikes Twelve,” for example, rides in on a driving chord progression to defy the naysayers that have too many good people hanging their heads. And in the chorus, Boulanger avers, “No matter who swallows your pride / they don’t have the beat inside.” “Beat” could refer to musical rhythm, but it could also refer to “heart beat.” In which case, Boulanger seems to say, “They may try to break you down, but you have more heart than they do. Don’t let them get to you, kid.” Yet, within the same song, you get the impression that it’s time to peel out of here and watch the jerks and all your other problems fade in the rear-view mirror. Boulanger periodically bends a few notes that screech with the angst of James Dean—the leather jacket wearing, troubled youth, Rebel Without a Cause James Dean—accelerating hard out of a dead stop.
Listening to “Clock Strikes Twelve,” I expected the whole album to cock this kind of attitude. Instead, the indie pop jingle “Today, I’ll Buy No Sorrow” immediately follows. With its charming, upbeat tone, the song recommends that instead of sorrow, we buy cotton candy ice cream, forgot our troubles, and saunter around town, waving merrily at strangers and petting their dogs.
It’s stubbornly optimistic, kind of. The music turns the sunshine on full blast, but the lyrics veer into the esoteric: “Plain Jane with a short leash / Wherever you turn / Freak scene for the straight-laced / Who ain’t got the nerve,” Boulanger sings in the second verse. It’s catchy, but weird. That’s okay, though, because weird is interesting, and the words and vocals are subsidiary to the music, Boulanger implied in our correspondence: “I think they are the least important to the sound and feelings I am trying to convey and my lyrics are always a bit vague, intentionally.”
Vague, perhaps, but the words and the music sometimes complement each other so well that they create an almost visual, nearly cinematic experience, which is the outcome of one of Boulanger’s writing techniques: “I often visualize and vocalize scenes from my favorite movies.” More than the other songs on Darkest Sour, “Loose Leaf and Bleak” and the instrumental “Parallel Action” together paint a vivid picture.
“Loose Leaf and Bleak,” with its hypnotic guitars inducing a woozy atmosphere, illustrates a scene of mild debauchery: “Blissful a daylong buzz / Refreshes the best of us,” Boulanger sings slowly in the verse, as if he had to focus on each word so as not to slur. As the song draws to a close, Boulanger repeats again and again, “Here every night starts over with another dumb mistake,” the consequence of steady day-drinking. As the song approaches the four-minute mark, the band cuts out save for Page, who plays an interlude of suspended synth notes that serve as a bridge between “Loose Leaf and Bleak” and “Parallel Action.” The interlude indicates not only a song transition, but also the passage of day to night, the evening sun fading and yielding to the moon. “Parallel Action” rollicks and rocks like a drunken night that starts with a dumb mistake, which sets off an avalanche of more dumb mistakes that will be forgotten by morning.
Darkest Sour drops today and The Sour Notes will be playing an album release show at Galveston Artist Residency (2521 Ships Mechanic Row) on Saturday. Cecil Frena kicks off the free show with a DJ set at 8 pm, Faith Healer performs at 9 pm, and The Sour Notes go on at 9:45 pm.