Those Darlins – Screws Get Loose

Bands always hate it when reviewers compare them to other bands, but what about when we contrast them with themselves? When played back-to-back alongside their self-titled debut, Screws Get Loose sounds like the work of a damn near completely other band. I’m having a hard time thinking of any other group that has demonstrated such pronounced growth between their first and second albums. The Meat Puppets, maybe? Ministry? (But who cares about Ministry?) But this goes beyond mere growth. This is more like a transformation.

None of this will come as a big shock to anyone who’s been following Those Darlins in the two years since their debut, or even prior. You see, while nearly every band, it seems, comes out of the starting gate with their core style and sound in place, only to hone and refine and expand it gradually over the course of successive albums, when Kelley, Nikki and Jessi recorded Those Darlins they were following a musical form they’d soon largely abandon. They’d started out playing acoustically, and doing old country covers, hence the pair of Carter Family tunes on the debut. So much of that first album seemed like they were trying to fit a role, play a caricature, be an old-timey country act. And I’m certain they could be an outstanding country band, but that’s not as much fun as playing rock ‘n’ roll.

So the hoedown ambiance recedes to the shadows on Screws Get Loose (although there still is plenty of Southern-bred humor) and if anyone’s playing an acoustic guitar, I can’t hear it. But the fact that this is a rock ‘n’ roll album isn’t what makes Screws Get Loose such a triumph. Anyone can make a rock album. But only a band as smart and special as Those Darlins could’ve made this one.

All great bands are full of big, robust personalities, or at least a single individual with one. It’s what makes them interesting, sets them apart from all the bland, run-of-the-mill bands that seem assembly-lined into our daily clutter on a nonstop conveyor belt stretching over the horizon. Those Darlins have that golden quality, and best of all it comes naturally – there’s no pose involved. Each member has a fun, likable, individual nature, some more reserved, others more outgoing. Jessi Darlin, the youngest of the bunch, also comes across as the most untamed and extraverted. She pulls out in the lead role on Screws Get Loose, and it essentially makes the album what it is. Eight of the eleven songs are either solely written or co-written by her, and to a large degree those are the ones that stick with me the deepest.

This girl has so much sassy, Southern personality bursting from her, it’s both utterly charming and a little bit dizzying. She’s like a kid who’ll say anything. And whatever it is, it’s usually hilarious. “I just wanna run and play in the dirt with you/ You just wanna stick it in.” There are surely more tactful ways to tell a boy that you’re just going to be pals and he ain’t gettin’ any, but when it comes out of her mouth it turns the one thing a guy doesn’t wanna hear into the funniest thing ever. But Jessi’s not all blunt one-liners here, in fact she offers the album’s most poignant moments with “Waste Away” and “Tina Said” (the latter written with drummer Linwood Regensburg), two songs about the helplessness felt as loved ones spiral down a drain clogged with problems. And her title track could be the catchiest ditty Those Darlins have recorded yet. (“Funstix Party” doesn’t count – it’s not technically a Darlins song.)

Each Darlin gets his or her time to shine on Screws Get Loose. Kelley’s “Boy” is pure, wistful, girl-group/jangle-pop nirvana. Nikki’s role on the album was diminished due to a broken arm – she mostly sings backup, and doesn’t even appear on a few cuts – but her songs (“Hives” and “Fatty Needs a Fix,” the latter co-written with Jessi) are the rawest, simplest and rowdiest. Even Regensburg sings one of his own songs here, co-wrote several others and successfully fills Nikki’s absence by playing much of the guitar and bass parts.

While their debut album was loaded with additional guest players (that’s basically where Linwood got his start as a full member), there are hardly any on Screws Get Loose aside from occasional organ input courtesy Adam Schatz. Those Darlins are clearly a more compact and skillful unit these days, and they make a fuller sound in the process. The added confidence is apparent from the first few notes, and by the time “BUMD” fades out in a fluster of squealing electric guitar, you’ll have nearly forgotten that first album ever existed. Which would be a shame, because it’s a damn fine record too, but like I said, Screws Get Loose is like hearing a brand new band. And danged if it’s not one of the coolest bands I’ve heard in a long while.

Those Darlins
Screws Get Loose
[Oh Wow Dang]