Rejoice. North Carolina’s Dirty Art Club are back. Vermillion picks up the thread left dangling by last years Hexes although it seems that Matt Cagle and Madwreck are slightly happier than last we heard from them.
It’s not difficult to plot a course from Heavy Starch, DAC’s fist album, through Hexes and on to Vermillion. It’s a rough, tenuous line but it becomes smoother and is drawn with more finesse as it makes its progress. Which brings us neatly to the evolution of DAC’s sound. Heavy Starch was a delicious mix of gritty beats and velvety hooks but with each release it seems that DAC are using a finer gauge sieve to filter their sonic ingredients. Gone is any trace of grit by the time we reach Vermillion and I have to admit that I find myself missing it…but ever so slightly.
It’s easier to think of Vermillion as a mood rather than an album. The eight tracks are full of lush instrumentation and spacey arrangements. It’s a lot like the (gorgeous) work of Monster Rally but while Mr. Rally has us detectoring around fake hula lounges DAC want us prostrate on sun loungers.
Album opener ‘Hemlock’ is a brooding, bass lead affair that breaks into Sgt. Pepper-ish cheery moments before dissolving into lounge strings. It’s not only the saccharin cheeriness that evokes the Beatles, the plucked bass sounds like it could have been played by McCartney himself (think of the amazing bass on the ‘she’s so heavy’ section of ‘I want you/she’s so heavy’).
‘Sun Burner’ drips, syrupy sunshine. It’s sure to be a beach favourite with its distant seagulls, crackly acoustic guitar and warm bass riff. It smells a little bit like Cool Calm Pete or Lemon Jelly. It’s fair to say that if you had to pick a weather for this album it would be sunny. The whole album is drenched in UV. This is the sunshine of the mid-afternoon slouch. When the sun seems to make everything slow down as you bask. Like pressing pause on a leisurely orgasm. Tantric sunshine. The aural pallet is so rich. The sounds here will hold you in an embrace that you’ll gladly return.
Let’s not kid ourselves though. This not the music of some crystal-waving, incense-burning, new-ager. This is not ocean sounds. This is still firmly rooted in the hip hop canon but its just so…well…lush. It’s richly musical but it doesn’t have much to say. This album is far more interested in making you feel a certain mood than having a conversation.
For all that is happy and sunny there’s still an edge of melancholy hanging around on the fringes. Like the tucking away of the knowledge that summer must end. We all know that winter is coming but in the midst of a long summer we let that thought stay on the periphery of our awareness. As do DAC. The small hints of sadness or darkness are restricted to little flourishes here and there. It might be the wind down of a track or the nature of a vocal-sample conversation. These little touches never amount to wrench you away from the viscous sunbeams but just remind you that sadness still exists.
Vermillion is an all too short slice of summer and although I’ve savoured every last beat and bar I can’t help feeling like next time out I want DAC to make a direct sequel to the gritty fun pack that was Heavy Starch. Still, I have sunshine to keep me warm whilst I wait.