Welcome back, Dark Smith: A Review on ‘DEGRE22IVE’

The music Dark Smith makes is a potent mix of dream pop, grunge and punk with a shadow of goth hovering over the blackened brew.
Picture of mynameisblueskye
A singer-songwriter from Boston, MA that also writes blogs about music from time to time. A loud and proud as fuck member of the Alt-Black, LGBT and autistic community.

Last we heard from Dark Smith, Seattle’s punk rock anti-hero and proud black rocker, they went by the name Danny Denial. They released three solo albums that range from intense to emotionally naked in equal measure. Their “breakout” album—the both vaguely and bluntly named Fuck Danny Denial tackles topics from heartbreak (rather, lovelessness), dysphoria, and insecurity surrounding their place in the rock/alternative scene that only ever begun to “embrace” them when #BlackLivesMatter protests sparked again in 2020. (See: my coverage of the great Black Alternative Revolution in my review for NNAMDI’s Brat in the Boston Hassle). The album covered racism and transphobia with a sense of anger and a wish to just be emotionally, spiritually and mentally numb to it all. Their newfound notoriety scored them not only enough goodwill to bring attention to their internet show Bazooka, but also holding a festival named Bazookafest that featured POC alternative artists of color and drag shows.

Then one day, their twitter name read “FKA Danny Denial”. The handle is already named after the album title, but their last tweet was in late March. What could have happened? Is this something of a rollout? A revelation? Is this the overall end of the line for the formerly named director, singer, songwriter and partystarter? What did this mean? And then out of nowhere, Dark Smith (Di’s band) dropped the video for “Feel Nothing”.

The formerly named outsider now goes by the moniker Di Danny Di, and they have brought along their merry band of similarly radically queer miscreants: Ashe Tempest, Lia Lovecraft and Nozomi Momo. And with such unveiling comes the return of their band Dark Smith. And what did they bring along with them? DEGRE22IVE.

Those new to Dark Smith, the music they make is a potent mix of dream pop, grunge and punk with a shadow of goth hovering over the blackened brew. Think what would happen if an early band from 4AD and Sub Pop (let’s say the dreaminess of Pale Saints, the vocal-cracking racket of Pixies and fist-clenching earnestness of Nirvana) decided to collaborate on an album blending both the styles of for both labels. Degressive, was originally released in 2019, and it is now re-released with three new songs to turn an EP into a full album. 

“Waiting” begins with shimmering guitars and Di’s wish for a start over before their brand of helplessly empathetic lyricism eventually swells into something more “optimistic.”. I say “optimistic” because the suggestion is that Di’s will to escape a stuffy and hellish existence within the time it was written is probably the same for those also living at the time.

“The world is ending and I feel nothing/I feel nothing, but consumed by the atmosphere,” are lyrics that the world felt dealing with the Tr*mp Administration as terror loomed over LGBT people, people of color and many others terrorized by the white supremacy dragged in from the backyard at the time. Similarly are words that couldn’t have colored the world perfectly from the beginning to the end of the Administration: “My greatest fear is swallowing me alive, and I can’t breathe.”

On the original version of the album, “Ghost Me” seethes and attacks with equal measure with lyrics that ponder the usefulness of going it alone when you can’t seem to fit in with a group, and it never lets up with the fiery “Sadfluid,” which gleefully prods at the American “fear of a female planet.” (ot only another prod at the Women’s March around the time of Tr*mp’s swearing, but it’s a dig at overall masculine hunger to keep “women [and gay people] in their place.”) “Killer Whale,” however, arrows the family values that white supremacy holds so dear. The story where the woman is behind the man who is promised and demands the powerful seat at the table. At his feet, Di threatens that “one of these days, the other show will drop.”

Elsewhere, Di plays assist to Ashe Tempest, the guitarist and vocalist that steps up to bat for “Seamstress,” whose music might be melodic enough to carry you to a safety, but the lyrics will prove such softness a cover for more electrocuting lyricism from Di and Ashe both. In the lyrics, Ashe paints a picture of a needle-threading housewife whose work masks her rage and regret as a woman, who is later played by Di. The more damning lyrics? “I listen to soulless sound I can dance to anything …”All I know is what I’ve seen/what I’ve learned behind a screen …”, Empty rooms and broken dreams, all I’ve lost is everything.” It’s been a minute since you have heard a more empathetic song towards women who lost their freedom behind the act of being “the wife” to a non-commital husband. In fact, one of the closest is not far from the band’s town: Nirvana’s Nevermind. (Wait, hear me out!)

Those who have heard the album Nevermind are aware of Nirvana’s need to speak for and defend women who are silenced and relegated to the back of whomever is hired to lead. The condescending, almost sinister voice of the male egos as they dissect and attempt to decimate the woman, but with the soft “Seamstress,” DS offers to make sure the woman has her own voice within the song.

While it may sound like passing the Seattle hero torch to Di, “Take A Picture It Will Last Longer” finds them enthusiastically denying the crown, as they don’t “stand a chance” and the “generation” they are assigned isn’t theirs to speak to. But with these songs, it is hard not to assign such grandiose love. They are, though, willing to let you know the state of a once-great-yet-crumbling city through “Seattle is Burning.”

In the reissue, there is the tensely tranquil “Feel Nothing,” the bleak, Deftones-y title track and “Too Many Secrets,” and while these lovely surprises help to turn the EP into a full album just in time for the introduction, DEGRE22IVE already proves itself solid enough to stand firm. Even though the monster-in-chief is no longer in office (and hopefully, those currently in power will make sure his term stays short), the oppressive forces that hurt the vulnerable the most are still at large. For those facing the scum leftover from the hell unearthed at quite a moment in time, DEGRE22IVE will be waiting to occupy whatever listening device they claim.

Welcome back, Dark Smith.

Read More