Dark Dark Dark revel in contradictions and small, sly tricks. Their story involves a slightly skewed road trip.
Unlike many musicians before them, songwriters Nona Marie Invie and Marshall LaCount didn't start a band on a whim while listening to the radio. They're much too strategic for that. Shortly before a trek from Minneapolis to New Orleans, they began playing accordion and banjo together, hoping to gig their way to gas money on the road, then call it quits when they returned home.
However, as the band recently told the blog TinyMixTapes, their plan worked so well that they couldn't stop. Instead, they rounded up some musician friends and embarked on a longer, even more exciting journey - one that includes a tour stop at UW-Madison's Rathskeller on April 2.
With a sprawling collection of instruments - trumpet, clarinet, cello, bass, piano and drum kit, plus the original accordion and banjo, but nary a guitar - the group invite comparisons to Balkan nostalgists Beirut and chamber-pop stalwarts the Decemberists. But Dark Dark Dark are something else.
For their sophomore album, 2010's Wild Go, they pulled a "made you look," shedding their clothes for the cover. It's something few accordion-toting pop bands - and even fewer traditional chamber ensembles - would fathom. Yet despite that revealing moment, the band guard their secrets carefully.
Some of these secrets live in their lyrics, which can be dark, twisted and occasionally reminiscent of murder ballads, especially in lines like "When I hold you underwater / I'll count which breath will be your last." It's hardly Top 40 material, and yet it's found a home on mainstream TV shows such as Grey's Anatomy, American Idol and even Degrassi: The Next Generation.
Meanwhile, they cloak their gloomy tendencies in titles like Bright, Bright, Bright (the name of their 2010 EP) and bouncy melodies that are nothing but sunshine. When you listen closely, the combination sounds beautiful but feels dangerous.