Their awkward to pronounce name - it’s “The Do-U - r - b - e - r - villes” - from Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles presents a beguiling front for this Canadian band. By naming themselves after the poor English family featured in the novel, are they asserting their own poverty? Or, hailing from Oshawa, Ontario, do they consider themselves second-bests to their more sophisticated Québécois? Or is the band — which attained its complete form in college —using such a literate reference ironically, a self-conscious acknowledgment of their middle class privilege? The questions swirl in the background as The D’Urbervilles don’t so much lament their poverty —real or imagined — but rather use it a defiant rallying cry on “We Are the Hunters.”
The first thing you think when listening to this A-side, though, isn’t whether these guys are poor or not: it’s whether — with the slap bass, manic energy and onslaught of guitar hits — it’s going to be “War Pigs” done for the pacifist set. But then it melds into a punk sing along that suggests they aren’t some limp-dicked indie band: “We are the Hunters, it’s time for killing!” Exhausted? We haven’t yet arrived at the infectious, Depeche Mode-esque bridge, built on a bubbling base line that makes it pretty much impossible not to do one of those bobbing 80s shakes. “At night we own the city skyline / By day we hide our selves from sight__,” John O’Regan sings; “Making ends meet/Burned up like a fire in the street / you can strike our hearts anywhere you like.” O’Regan, who moonlights as Diamond Rings - Side A on the PS I Love You split 7-inch that caught our attention last fall — manages through his robust, beautiful voice to convey both the weariness and defiance of the lyrics. (His voice is even more incredible in person: I saw O’Regan perform as Diamond Rings back in the fall in New York and was blown away.) The band only enters the 21st century at the triumphant chorus, sounding like the Killers without the bourgeois melodrama, synthesizer and all.
So yeah, The D’Urbervilles are kaleidoscopic. Their chutzpah itself is worthy of praise: though plenty of bands experiment with different sounds, it’s actually somewhat incredible how few rock songs these days change tempo or rhythm, let alone style. I’ve always been drawn to this kind of virtuosity, built for the easily bored (or less generously, those with short attention spans). Of course there are endless great songs that build to a climax with shifting-tempos, and plenty of showy music-for-musicians (e.g. Zappa). But rarely do we see this collage-minded freely-borrowing approach, the best (and most famous) example of which has to be the circus of freak-doo-wop “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”
But The D’Urbervilles are no Beatles, and upon first listen this rapid juxtaposition, this drive-by of the last forty years of rock can be appear jarring if not downright crude. They sound like a band that is either completely aware of what they’re doing or totally clueless. But upon repeat listens it becomes clear though the D’Urbervilles try on many different musical outfits, they are so tight that they pull it off.
But the other reason, the reason they have incredible potential to be successful and great, is that they root themselves in the trendy post-punk sound but use that as a point of departure. Like the rest of their album of the same name, on “We Are the Hunters” The D’Urbervilles have all the elements of that sound: pile-driving bass, generally minimalist arrangements, and quickly shifting forms. While Tim Bruton does a fine job on guitar and synth, it is the bass of Kyle Donnelly that dominates here, giving the band their appealingly Pixies-like meaty sound. But instead of sticking to the formula, The D’Urbervilles add some hard rock guitar here, sprinkle some synthesizer there until it comes out just right. Bon appét-indié.
B-side “Worst Case Ontario” feat. New Slang sounds completely different than anything else The D’Urbervilles have recorded. It is, frankly, unrepresentative of their work — but it sure shows that these guys have a sense of humor. A self-mocking shout out to their home state, the track starts out with a clip from perhaps the funniest — and trashiest — piece of pop culture to emerge from our neighbors up north: the Trailer Park Boys. Built around an old-school hip-hop (read: funk) beat with similarly loose, simple vocals, the track contains such zingers as: “I ain’t no moron/so I swim in Lake Huron,” such sophisticated smack-downs of other states like “What the heck, Quebec?” and the classic taunt: “Do you have the balls to swim Niagara falls!?” They are more “wiggidy-wiggidy-wiggidy-wacks” here than a Kriss-Kross single and they seem to be in that twelve year old state of mind as well. Which is to say: they don’t take themselves too seriously. Thank god.
The D’Urbervilles are smart. They sing with sincerity, but always with a nod and a wink; they address real issues with verve but aren’t afraid to be completely silly. They inhabit the hot sound of the moment but twist it in original and exciting ways. And they prove that even in an age when rock is becoming more and more orchestrated, a hard bass and beautiful vocals are all you really need to make a great song.
We are the Hunters
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem066/01 We are the Hunters.mp3
Worst Case Ontario
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem066/02 Worst Case Ontario.mp3