Darto Combats Power Dynamics with Conviction (and Saxophone) on Fundamental Slime (KEXP Premiere)

Local Music, KEXP Premiere
Dusty Henry
photo by Matt Burink

When I met with Seattle's Darto last year, discussing their last album Human Giving, we talked a lot about the idea of loss of self – embracing an idea that sheds ego and impulses to just protect ourselves. Human Giving was a record about hope, a rejection of their inclinations to embrace darkness in their art. But with their latest EP, Fundamental Slime, there’s a newfound confrontational spirit to Darto. It’s not a rejection of that hope – if anything, Fundamental Slime (out Friday, Sept. 4 via Aago Records) shows a band with convictions that are worth fighting for.

Fundamental Slime opens with “Brotherhood,” a song which Darto’s Greg Flores says “is about power and dominance.” He adds, “Men in particular seem to protect their power with violence without ever questioning the reasons why they feel the need to protect power in the first place. The irony is that violent dominance is an ultimate display of weakness, and it’s a way to express insecurity while still maintaining power.” And as such, “Brotherhood” barrels in with its own sense of power. A one bass note thuds relentlessly, creating a heavy hum that emanates and coats the entirety of the instrumentation. Nicholas Merz’ voice comes in and out of the beginning, in spurts of gasps and exhales, before his baritone bellows, “Hey. Hey.” He takes each syllable with patient pauses, “Great white/American man/Speak to me/Of Being Free.”

As was the case with Merz’s solo album The Limits of Men from earlier this year (in which all the members of Darto performed on), Fundamental Slime is reckoning with the ugliness manifest around us. It’s right there in the title. But the band isn’t giving up hope, they embody the consequences and the fowl thrills of societies worst behaviors in the short four song tracklist. There are no defined roles in Darto, meaning every musician switches instruments and parts from song-to-song – each with an understanding of doing what they need to do in service to the song. It’s always been an asset for Darto, but on Fundamental Slime it helps to serve the concept of different sins and perspectives being examined.

Beyond just the thematic benefits, the loose definitions of the band lead to some of the band’s most exciting musical moments. From song to song, they can jump between musical worlds on a whim. Where they can create something as fragile and gripping as “Totality” just after the sonic brawl of “Brotherhood.” On “Everyday Actor,” Candace Harter’s voice doubles up on itself in a mesmerizing effect over driving drum machine rhythms as she repeats, “I’m only acting, but it’s real to me/When the flame is controlled/Can they truly see?”

Bad Luck saxophonist Neil Welch is heavily featured on the album, finding room in every song for his screaming squalls. Welch is a welcome addition into the Darto fold, finding surprising new territory to take his instrument throughout the record. He layers himself to resemble a symphony on the phantasmagoric crescendo of “Totality,” then later a mystifying jazz lurking in the background of “Persona.” But what you’ll first know him for is the blasting tones of “Brotherhood,” where he belts his saxophone in such a way that it mimics actual human screams heard on the same track.

Listen to Fundamental Slime and read thoughts from Merz on the release below.


"Fundamental Slime is a batch of tunes that came out of the writing process for a new LP. We had these songs that felt like a cohesive idea thematically, so we decided to put this out in between records to allow more time for the next LP and to strike while the iron was hot with these tunes. 

We're always approaching different ways with constructing songs. We really love limitations and how that can affect the work and process. We set some boundaries with this and got a lot more interactive with lyrical writing together. I feel as if we are working towards being as vulnerable as possible with each release." - Nicholas Merz

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