"...perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." —Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1939, Terre des Hommes
The impetus for Little Darkness, the new LP by The Domestics (the songwriting duo of Leo London and Michael Finn), occurred in 2015 on their tour with Blitzen Trapper supporting their self titled debut. The duo, and their band (Kyle Moderhak, Matt Moore, and Brad Norton), trekked through a grueling 28 shows in 30 days across the U.S. and Canada. Finn was going through a brutal and bitter break-up with his partner who was along with them for the tour and London's relationship of over a decade collapsed further with each passing day on the road.
Each morning, London would wake to work on on his music at around 6AM—while the band slept. A tiny Casio would provide the tone and the rhythm as he whispered into a recorder, careful to wake no one.
Upon arrival back home in Portland, Oregon, London continued to immerse himself in his early morning songwriting sessions, knocking out sketch after sketch while his now ex-girlfriend (whom he was still living with) slept. Having written over 200 songs since the recording of their first record, in the span of a few short months he wrote what would become the core set of songs for Little Darkness.
Populated with stream of consciousness lyrics, London would pass his homemade recordings along to Finn. As each demo came in at a breakneck pace Finn would absorb them with feverish intent, repeatedly listening to the sparse sketches so very pregnant with hope, pain and love—not to mention being catchy as hell. “I was blown away by those demos ... the songs grabbed me—you could feel it. Reading the words, it was a million stories, not some breakup record or a concept album about any simply defined thing—just songs about being alive. It was brilliant.”
Parts were pounded out, rough arrangements written, legendary producer Tucker Martine jumped on board and time at Martine's Flora Recording and Playback studio was booked; One month to write, record, mix and sequence Little Darkness.
As they began tracking with calculated and ambitious experimentation they carefully wove the 11 songs that would become Little Darkness. Most days were 16 hours - there was simply nowhere else to be.
“It's like when you've reached the point of no return. It's too late to straighten out and get a normie job. Too many years as an outdoor cat.... Broke and broken. Pointless and useless. So we made a record. What's more pointless than that?" London chuckles.
Finn adds, “It felt like the whole world was collapsing around us, but that we had the opportunity to do whatever we wanted and we could make make it perfect.”
Unlike their self-titled debut, that had been approached as if they were a band; guitar, bass, keys, drums et al., all trappings of 'Thou Shalt' came off for the sessions. Chains were dropped onto a mic'd up studio floor and run through plethora effects, crowd noise and hissing toy robots were recorded along with traditional instrumentation pushed to the edge of breaking apart. They hit the tape hard and the studio became not only a sanctuary but very much an instrument.
Finally after one month London, Finn and Martine emerged with Little Darkness, an LP that is very much an album—meant to be listened to as a whole—but also chock full of corkers.
On the Calypso rhythm infused title track "Little Darkness" staccato chords dance over a twinkling Rhodes electric piano as Finn sings London's words:
… Down to the sea / All I can carry / The dreams that I've buried / They mean almost nothing to me now
As the verse closes the track explodes into waves of harmonic distortion, gigantic drums and swimming subliminal Mellotron and the chorus rings in:
Trying hard to remember / Trying not to forget her / Well she looked so good when she walked down the hall / Just light a candle and don your armor / There's a little darkness in us all
On "Tunnels and Trains" (penned while on tour) a distorted breakbeat is joined by an equally distorted acoustic guitar and then a flood of wet wailing chords. London sings:
Just a death grip and the window seat / Another bedroom I'll love to leave / To Carolina in the Tunnels and Trains / Tell her I miss her / Tell me she feels the same
From the opening notes of "Love That Dress" to the anthemic refrain of album closer "Our Light," The Domestics Little Darkness is a sonically ambitious and compelling LP that demands repeat spins. Written in the aftermath of a national tour, the end of a decade long relationship, and recorded and mixed in a tireless month of arrangement and sonic experimentation, Little Darkness sounds like an obsession with honesty and perfection as if there is nothing left to take away.