Over the last decade or so, The Sadies have developed an instantly identifiable sound resistant to easy genre classification. While they have often been called alt-country, that's a poor label for music that whips up as much shimmering psychedelia or surf rock as country twang. Alongside recording their own increasingly distinctive albums, the band has served as a self-contained, organic supergroup on collaborative albums with Andre Williams, Jon Langford, Neko Case and John Doe -- and has appeared in a few band side projects and as players on other albums, such as on a side's worth of the second Heavy Trash album, for example.
Despite embodying such rare musical commodities The Sadies have remained somewhat of an underground secret, beloved by those in the know (especially anyone who's had a chance to see their incendiary live show) but seemingly still missing from the radar of many music listeners. I thought the Canadian quartet would finally conquer the world with 2007's New Seasons, an album that continued the process begun with 2004's Favourite Colours of distilling a somewhat more focused version of their trademark genre-blending ways. 2009's collaboration with John Doe appeared to make further inroads on the general pop culture consciousness, and while the aptly-titled Darker Circles isn't likely to suddenly storm Top 40 radio, it will entrance the already converted and hopefully the newly introduced as well.
The title fits so well because Darker Circles is a song cycle from a lonely place, full of melancholic melodies about disappearing dreams. The band's catalog is full of songs with an unusually introspective air, the music sometimes sad-sounding even if the lyrics that go along with it aren't. This time around the words tend to match the gathering thunderclouds of the accompaniment. As almost a pre-emptive strike about reading too much into it, singer/guitarist Dallas Good addressed the lyrical content in a press release about the new album:
I get people like my mom asking me if something is wrong because the lyrics are somber and dark. I don't think that would be the first question that I would ask of a horror film director. Writing poetry depends on how you look at it. Some people write poetry to purge their darkest sins and feelings. Other people write poetry because it's a craft they like to work on. As far as I know, those would be the two root things -- either some sort of profound gotta-purge-it or a guy going, 'what the fuck rhymes with love?' I would put myself on the latter side but I don't know. That's up to the listener.
Melancholy or not, the disc contains some of their hardest rocking tracks to surface in a while. Album opener "Another Year Again" suddenly morphs into a Bo Diddley-beat raveup; the gorgeous "Cut Corners" includes a wicked fuzz-tone solo; "Another Day Again" sounds like The Byrds set on stun. Co-produced by the band and The Jayhawks' Gary Louris, Darker Circles may be The Sadies best work yet -- and for this band of musical ringers, that's saying something. (YepRoc, 2010; LP comes with digital download)