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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1489

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Daphne Loves Derby: Good Night Witness Light
by George Graham

(Outlook Records 1012 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 6/20/2007)

Ever since the Beatles, there have been generations of artists and bands who draw their influence from the Fab Four, whose innovation was making not just tuneful pop with great vocals, but going beyond the traditional musical simplicity of the genre, by adding interesting arrangement ideas and distinctive sonic textures. As a long-time Beatles fan, I naturally find myself drawn to such music, even though, now a couple of generations separated from the Beatles, the current crop's musical influences come from some different places.

This week, we have another young band who are steeped in melodic pop, full of appealing vocals adding creative arrangements in the Beatles traditions, while at the same time, sounding like 21st Century pop. The group is called Daphne Loves Derby, and their new release, their second, is called Good Night, Witness Light.

Daphne Loves Derby is based in the Seattle area, and got together in the early part of this decade, though according to their biography, when their debut release, On the Strength of All Convinced, came out in 2005, the members were "not yet of drinking age." Since then they have done a fair amount of touring with other bands on the alternative rock scene, but took time from the road in 2006 to do some "woodshedding," immersing themselves in some music from the past from Frank Sinatra to the Cranberries, then went to work on the new recording.

Kenny Choi is the band's lead vocalist, guitarist and lyricist. He is joined by drummer Stu Clay, guitarist Spencer Abbot, and bassist Jason Call, though since the making of this CD, Call decided to leave the band and go back to school. For this recording, Daphne Loves Derby traveled to Maryland to work with producer Matt Squire, known for his work the band Panic at the Disco. They came up with a recording that shows Daphne Loves Derby's attention to hummable melodies and the interesting lyrical approaches of the past, not to mention somewhat occasionally complex song structures, put into a context that is sonically much in the 21st Century, including, unfortunately a few cliches. But the overall result comes across as clever and appealing thanks to Choi's great writing and charismatic vocals.

Whether it was the work of producer Squire or the band themselves, Daphne Loves Derby do have a tendency to do the now-hackneyed pattern that goes back to Nirvana, with lighter verses, but then the chorus of the song played with grungy guitars and the annoying super compressed maxed-out sound. But the songs are tend to be so likable that the sonic triteness can be easily overlooked. And the band does try some interesting things, with the addition of trumpet, played by Spencer Abbot, plus some strings and French horn in places. Drummer Clay also created a marching band sequence to shake things up a bit.

The CD opens with a track called Are Two Chords Enough, Dear? which serves as an almost symphonic prelude. <<>>

That leads into one of the band's very appealing pop tracks, Stranger, You and I, marked by intriguing lyrics -- about a breakup, according to Choi -- and his appealing vocals. The composer says that the track is actually parts of three songs meshed together, hence the non-trivial song structure. <<>>

Iron in the Backseat is another creative song, but here the production gets a bit overbearing, with the predictable soft verse/super-loud chorus form undermining somewhat the composition's creative elements. <<>>

Drummer Clay gets his time in the spotlight on the track called Marching Band, on which he plays all the drum parts. According to the band, the track was inspired by watching a movie called "Drumline." <<>>

That leads into one of the CD's best tunes, That's Our Hero, Shot. It's just great power pop, again with interesting lyrics. <<>>

The album includes one drum-less acoustic track, Cue the Sun, which Choi said he did not expect to include on the album. He explains that the song is about leaving home, with some regrets, and in the process not enjoying the way one is changing. <<>>

Love and Mercy is another of the CD's highlights, also with an acoustic undercurrent and some interesting sonic touches and lyrics. <<>>

Good Night, Witness Light ends with another of its more laid-back songs, How's It Going to End? an appealing waltz with somewhat apocalyptic lyrics. <<>>

The title of Daphne Loves Derby's new CD, Good Night, Witness Light comes from a Robert Frost poem, according to principal songwriter Kenny Choi, and I think that says something about this CD -- it's pop music that is outwardly much a part of the 21st Century, but it also has a literate quality and is creative musically, with fairly sophisticated tunes, given the context. I think this young band is another in a long string of groups going back to the Beatles who combine appealing pop armed with great vocals, enhanced by their musical sophistication, cleverness and a bit of experimentation. In the pop tradition, group is quite succinct in their writing. Only one of the 13 tracks times in at over four minutes.

Sonically, we would be generous to give the CD a grade "C." Everything is generally audible in the mix, but the overbearing grungy guitars in parts of the songs, and the totally inexcusably excessive amounts of audio compression, pushing almost everything to the max much of the time, makes this a CD best listened to a low volume in the background. It quickly becomes fatiguing on a good stereo or on headphones. And those grungy guitar sequences are just so stereotypical.

But the quality of the writing, Kenny Choi's engaging vocals, and the Daphne Loves Derby's tight musicianship and youthful energy level makes this a thoroughly likable recording that is a reminder that a further generation are carrying on the melodic pop traditions and giving it their own spin.

(c) Copyright 2007 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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