By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
Darwa is a charming Slovene duo whose particular charm is new to its genre. Its genre itself may be new.
There's a style of female singing that I'll call post-Lena Horne vocal mastery: a strong, cool, dignified sound that uses jazz timing to drift above the beat in a stately manner. By the '50s this had become a major style for high-end, supposedly sophisticated pop singing. Of course, rock'n'roll came along and redefined pop away from this stuff, but later, in the '70s, rockers like Bowie and Ferry set out to reclaim such pre-rock stylings; and then as a further development in the '80s and '90s you get all these blank British bores like Sade and Lisa Stansfield and Tracey Thorn putting retro jazz-pop mastery on top of modern dance tracks. This new mastery doesn't have the chops of '50s sirens like, say, Chris Connor or Rosemary Clooney, but it doesn't need to: The big lie of '40s and '50s sophisticated pop was that the performer had control over sound, whereas the big lie of sophisticated Brits is that they have control over style. So even weak-voiced singers like the chanteuse in St. Etienne and that whispering idiot in Black Box Recorder can come on with this empty Britcool and seem masterful in doing so. (To add dissonance to what I've just written, I want to report that my friend Ellen says this about Lisa Stansfield: "Her voice is very cold. I love it." And Ellen is indifferent, as far as I can tell, to any notions of Britstyle and Britcool.)
As you may have gathered, this is not my favorite type of singing, but Darwa singer Darja Klancar is enamored of it, at least on the album More Life More Trouble, their first. Yet, as I said, I find her charming. For one thing, she seems not interested in control but just in singing her heartfelt songs, hence her style is far warmer than that of the cool-toned Brits. And maybe this is because Darwa's melodies and chord patterns come from nowhere near jazz-pop, but rather from the eerie Northern forest gloom-blues of Sabbath and metal as refracted through American rock bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. And her pop-jazz vocals therefore come across not as style control but just as a light touch on a form of rock music that normally gets the elephant-stomp treatment.
Darja Klancar is blond; the blondness doesn't match her face. There's an odd angle to the back photo, making her off-kilter, tilted. Mario, her musical partner, is standing in the background, arms folded, looking like a guy who's standing in the background (which I find charming too). Darja's liner notes include thanks to Soundgarden ("You're the best rock group ever"), her parents and her ancestors ("for giving me life"), her high school fellows (for giving her the nickname Darwa, which I assume is significant if you're from Slovenia), her cat, and her English teachers. "I could never go so far with my mother tongue." (Sample lyrics: "You give me no good fly, no/Tried a talk on telephone.") She also thanks the Internet for hooking her up with her record company. She doesn't thank sound recording itself, though she could, for making available so many sounds for permutation and misperception.