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Darto at Cafe Stritch

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GIVING THEIR ALL: Seattle's Darto come to Cafe Stritch in support of 'Human Giving'

GIVING THEIR ALL: Seattle's Darto come to Cafe Stritch in support of 'Human Giving'

Local fans of indie rock band Darto may find that the band they thought they knew has changed in the four years since they last played Cafe Stritch. Back in 2014, the Seattle quartet were blasting out fuzzy post-rock swells and jangly tangles of noodly math leads over pummeling drums. During that particular show, the PA literally burst into flames while Darto were playing.

“Very metal,” says Nicholas Merz, frontman for the group, which returns to Stritch next Wednesday.

Since that fiery performance, the band has shifted tack. They put out an atmospheric soundtrack to a film that was, unfortunately, never released, as well as a full-length record brimming with warm, warbling synths, slurring alt-country slide guitar, dusty rosin-caked strings and minimalist, affected percussion. In other words, it’s definitely not as metal.

Still, Merz doesn’t think there is a too fundamental of a difference between his band’s June 2014 EP, Hex, and Darto’s latest LP, Human Giving. In fact, when he listens to the music he and his friends have made since 2010, he can trace a common thread through it all.

“It’s all mood based,” he says over the phone from Seattle. “It’s all just mood and texture.”

If there is one thing that most certainly hasn’t changed since the group played here four years ago, it’s Darto’s commitment to doing things their way, without the help of third parties or even much support from record labels.

While booking their own shows and touring the country, Darto have made strong connections with other bands and musicians all over the U.S. But some of their favorite people have come out of the South Bay.

“We have a lot of good friends in San Jose,” Merz says. In fact, the band member Gordon De Los Santos grew up on the East Side and used to play in the San Jose band Worker Bee.

De Los Santos first met Merz and fellow Darto singer and multi-instrumentalist Candace Harter while on tour with Worker Bee.

“Doing things on a DIY level—on community-based level—it’s super paramount to us as a band,” Merz says. “It’s how we’ve structured things in our band. That’s kind of the purpose of it in many ways.”

Merz insists that there are no primary songwriters in Darto, and the band members don’t even stick to the same instruments while writing or performing. The drummer on one song might be the bassist, keyboardist or guitarist on another. Which isn’t to say that they write by messing around until they hit upon something they can all agree on.

Rather, ever since Darto was recruited to compose a soundtrack for a film—Frontier, which was never completed—Merz says he and the rest of the band have been far more intentional with their writing and recording process. They talk about songs, textures, arrangements and the way a track should feel before they even pick up their instruments.

“We took a year and a half to write and record Human Giving,” Merz says. “We were super deliberate.”

Although Merz maintains he can trace a through line from the beginning to the end of the Darto catalogue, he also acknowledges that the band’s latest effort—released in September—marks a turning point. “We feel like this is our most concise piece of work,” he says.

He’s right.

While Darto’s previous work pulls the listener in with its feral and hypnotic energy, the music on Human Giving, coyly beckons—drawing you into the fold with a gentle magnetism.

Standout track “Fell Ill” features waves of mournful slide guitar, a languid picking rhythm and a soothing, oohing and ahhing backup vocal.

And unlike previous Darto releases, which saw Merz and Harter drowning their singing in oceans of fuzz, on Human Giving, they allow their voices through. Merz’s deep, drawling baritone, which he pairs with wry, matter-of-fact lyrics, is reminiscent of Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields.

In the final analysis, Merz says that Darto is simply maturing, finding its own voice and doing what any serious band eventually does. “In my mind, this is what the band has been working toward for a very long time,” he says. “It’s finally at a spot where we have a group of people who can all share in steering the project and we all have confidence in each other.”

Darto plays with Doctor Nurse at Cafe Stritch’s Wax Wednesday next week.

Mar 14, 9pm, Free
Cafe Stritch, San Jose

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