Imagine sitting by a lake within the Appalachians in southern Ohio, among dense forestry with maybe a deer or two in sight. Bust out your guitar, grab a few musical companions, and the resulting sound would resemble the quintessential tree music that is Saintseneca. That idyllic, inspirational setting was in fact the environment of frontman Zac Little’s upbringing. But what sets this band apart from other current folksy groups is the punk influence that came from his relocating to the state capital, Columbus—a mini-mecca of scuzzy indie rock for a few decades now.
Dark Arc is the band’s Anti- debut and the studio effort we’ve been waiting for since they graced our stage at CMJ 2013. And herein, the band really hones in on the range of emotions that often get muddled in our everyday lives. Yet instead of letting the despair take over, they always relieve it with sweeping, vibrant melodies and dense layers of varying acoustic instruments.
With Blood Bath, the album is introduced with steady arpeggios and Little in the forefront singing about being drenched in blood. At just about the halfway point, the song transitions with sporadic rumbling drums until a strumming banjo pushes the tempo forward into a brighter second half. The band exhibits an ability to pair seemingly joyous music with dark or serious subject matter.
Happy Alone serves as the album’s lead single, and rightfully so, because it displays the album’s light-hearted feel while conversely singing about isolation and solitude. Just like the opener, the band seeks to show that there is some satisfaction even in these seemingly unpleasant emotions. In the same way, Only The Young Die Good features a driving bassline and spacey synths that give it a dreamy feel. The chorus, however, leaves you feeling slightly gloomy when Little sings, “If only the good ones die young, I pray your corruption comes.” The strong sentiments here show a relatable struggle of enjoying the moment while anxiety about the future looms.
Apart from its clever emotional juxtapositions, Dark Arc is also strong because of the moments of intimacy that show up between rowdier sections. It’s in the quieter moments that we hear Little’s fearlessness and can appreciate his scruffy crooning, riddled with dialectal inflections. As in Falling Off, where the band really rides the line between folk and rock. There seems to be a dichotomy between the vocals that are mostly accompanied by a sole guitar, highlighting Little’s voice separately from the background which then builds into lush harmonization.
The standout on this album has to be Takmit because it has a much different energy than the rest, yet it fits in perfectly. It’s a quintessential stomping track, but the most beautiful, affecting aspect of it is the band’s ability to play with tempos and time signatures so seamlessly. After you get your fix of stomping at the start, the lead singer takes his time, ignoring that pace beforehand leading into a mellow verse. This feel continues up until the song builds into a lush layering of jittering strumming and plucking strings. This unique sound is a fresh welcome and also shows the band’s versatility.
There’s definitely a natural spunk about this band that sets them apart from lots of other folk-rock band out there. The fact that the lead singer lived his entire youth in the setting where this music thrives gives him an edge above the oft-slumming, bearded’n’banjoed hordes. Dark Arc’s unique sound is a team effort of acoustic instruments, raw talent and the life that comes from breathing the fresh, crisp, if sometimes foggy mountain air.