CD REVIEW: Stephen Karl & Handsome Animals – Darlin Darlin
The sweet, harmonious sounds of Darlin Darlin and the epic folk rock of Stephen Karl & Handsome Animals go head to head on their new split extended play, out this May via Soft Landing Records, and if you weren’t familiar with either of these groups prior to this, you’ll be instantly hooked on their shared skill in the studio. Both of these bands come out of New York, but the four songs found here are hardly urban dwelling pop songs. In fact, they celebrate a pastoral sound often found in the country that exists in between the coasts and channel it through polished, high definition audio to create a truly intimate listening experience.
Joanie Leon Guerrero is one part Nashville sweetheart and one part Brooklyn poet in both of her band Darlin Darlin’s contributions to the EP. “Easy,” one of the catchiest country songs I’ve heard in years, discusses the breakdown of a relationship, and how easily we can take each other for granted, slipping away from the place we both wanted to stay in forever. “Katy” doesn’t shy away from swagger in its tempo, which slowly creeps around the corner and gives you the chills once our singer starts to croon. Both songs could brighten up the darkest roadside country bar, as smoky and introspective as they are. It’s very difficult to be able to create that kind of a contrast in music and lyrics without slipping into self-indulgence, but Leon Guerrero and her band make it seem effortless.
The Handsome Animals hold their own on this one too, with Stephen Karl’s brooding lyrics gripping us tight against the whirlwind of chiming electric and pedal steel guitars that reign supreme on the song “Shelter.” Even as he describes looking deep into the rear view mirror at life, hungover from all of the strife and discord that love and lust can bring, there’s an uplifting melody guiding his voice, almost as if to convey to us that we’re in the company of friends. The song is infectious, along with its sibling song, “Cindy.” “Cindy” isn’t as irreverent as “Shelter,” but it also testifies to Karl’s charismatic brand of self-awareness. The song (which Karl says he wrote about a wild night that ended with a memorable interaction with pop singer Cindy Lauper) digs into a yearning to recapture youth and all of its reckless inhibition, a feeling all of us wish would last forever as we grow older.
Stephen Karl and Darlin Darlin complement each other extraordinarily well on this new split EP, and I would love to see a companion tour find its way to my hometown. Casual fans of country music or a hardcore folkies will both be pleased with these bands’ contributions to modern Americana. For more information on Stephen Karl & Handsome Animals, including updates on their live schedule, visit their website handsomeanimals.com or official Facebook page (@youanimal). You can find out more about Darlin Darlin at their Facebook Page (facebook.com/darlindarlinband), Instagram (@darlindarlinband) and official website, darlin-darlin.com.
by Kim Muncie
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