“Temporary, we are” Red Ribbon vocalist/guitarist Emma Danner reminds us in the first line of “Your Car,” an introverted dance track that opens debut album Dark Party. The memento mori sets the tone for the album’s nine gracefully haunted songs, a fitting soundtrack for the shift to autumn. “Let’s get away from this place/ There’s no use in looking back to save, save face,” Danner sings in ghostly harmony over a driving drum beat and methodical synths. “I won’t die of loneliness/But if I do, I’ll blame you.”
What started as Danner’s covert lo-fi bedroom recording project in 2012 has evolved to include various band members over the years, but the Dark Party configuration comprises Veronica Dye (TERMINATor, ex-Rose Windows) on flute, Natasha El-Sergany (somesurprises) on guitar, Monika Khot (Zen Mother, Nordra) on synth and guitar, and Pat Schowe (Feed, ex-Rose Windows) on drums. Recorded by ex-Seattleite and sonic dark-arts master Randall Dunn last year in New York, Dark Party brings a new depth and clarity to Danner’s songs. Nearly half the album was released on a tape called Freaks Only last year, and while the original lo-fi quality suits Danner’s dreamy, overcast songwriting, recording in a studio with the current lineup has proven efficacious.
Dark Party is largely downtempo, but the melancholic potion radiates an engaging warmth, and as a whole still manages to shake out on the pop-leaning side of the equation. On the instrumental “Destroy,” wisps of flute flutter over languid guitar; a vaguely sinister thrumming suffuses just beneath the surface. “Freaks Only” is considerably more viscous than the tape’s version, stretching an eerie organ across a reverberating, slow-motion drumbeat—never has an ode to a skateboarding ex, or the line “you’re an idiot,” been so touching. “Seven Months” and “Idiot Orange” saunter with a dusty, cinematic quality; the latter builds a hypnotizing altar of flute, synth strings and guitar over a minimal drum skeleton.
Lyrically, Dark Party is wistful and introspective, but Danner’s steady, crystalline voice, landing neatly in the forefront, keeps the mood from becoming overripe or maudlin. On “Talking to Myself” Danner sifts through conflicting feelings related to social stratification (“I wish you thought I was cooler/I’m happy I’m one of the losers”), before tilting existential (“Wondering about the self/If it turns into something else/Get me a drink”), and finally deciding: “I don’t wanna be a member of a club/That would have me”—a wink to a similar line commonly attributed to Groucho Marx. On “Alright” Danner admits to anesthetizing the helpless feeling of knowing full well that something will always be wrong, somewhere: “In my head I feel alright/Outside, shit ain’t right.”
The universal weighing of right and wrong while faced with our own ticking mortality may sound like a bummer task, but Dark Party reminds us that there is beauty in the shadows—in the ephemeral spaces between the daylight and the night.