March 25, 2016 | Paul Simpson
Active since the late '80s, New Jersey-based dream poppers Deardarkhead only have a handful of releases to their name, and merely one of them is a proper full-length. That album, Unlock the Valves of Feeling, appeared back in 1998; since then, the group's original bass player and vocalist Michael Amper departed from the group in 2009, and the band soldiered on as a vocal-free trio along with replacement bassist Kevin McCauley, who joined in 2010. Following Captured Tracks' 2011 anthology of the group's early-'90s EPs (Oceanside: 1991-1993), Strange Weather is Deardarkhead's first newly released material of the 21st century, and it reveals them as an impressive instrumental unit with no apparent need for useless, empty words. The EP is far more focused than one might expect of an instrumental EP from a band that formerly had a vocalist. The group's music has often had an urgency to it -- they've never been the type of shoegaze band to stick to hazy, stoned-sounding slow tempos -- and here they sound positively energized and vibrant. There's a bit of a post-punk, Cure-esque jangle to the guitars, but they don't drown them in effects. The melodies are clear and upfront, and strangely enough, it almost seems like the band has gained more of a pop sensibility since losing its vocalist. All of the tracks sound different, from the thundering toms of "March Hares" to the slightly heavier, more psychedelic guitar textures of "Thinking Back," so the songs all have distinct personalities rather than just sounding like variations on a similar groove. There's a tinge of wistfulness to the melodies, but overall they sound bright and summery. Deardarkhead are commendable for their preference of the EP format, as their releases usually don't wear out their welcome. Strange Weather feels like a fresh new start, even if it's been at least half a decade in the making.
3 1/2 stars out of 5