Thomas D’Arcy seemingly has everything going for him. He’s from Toronto, which of late has been a breeding ground for indie stardom. He records intimate and personally revelatory indie synth-music in the basement, which has garnered him comparisons to the likes of the Postal Service, Grandaddy and the Magnetic Fields. He’s young and attractive, like a more cleaned-up digital version of Conor Oberst. But D’Arcy is quick to dismiss most of the hype, relying on his music to speak for itself. He doubts he’ll find a slot on the roster of the next Broken Social Scene album, fails to see the Grandaddy comparison, and hadn’t even heard the Postal Service until the album was near complete. You see, Small Sins used to be called the Ladies and Gentlemen, releasing Small Sins on Canadian label Boompa before having to change their name due to legal reasons. After huge Canadian buzz and a talked about showing at SXSW, D’Arcy signed to Astralwerks, changing the name to Small Sins. The debut self-titled album adds one bonus track not available on the Canadian release, making it that much better.
While D’Arcy may not see or hear the Postal Service similarities, they’re certainly there. His vocals have affectations in various pronunciations, which might just be a `living close to the Canadian border’ thing. Songs like “Stay,” and its themes of self-abasement, recall “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight.” Whereas Ben says he was the one worth leaving, D’Arcy half-heartedly tells his ex to find someone new, telling her that she can stay if she wants to, but can’t sleep in his bed. He then betrays his own strength by begging her at the end to stay. “Small Sins / Big Within” is more like a vocal version of the dreamy and gauzy keyboards of the Album Leaf meeting the near-tribal drumming of Tears for Fears. In fact, this entire album is somewhat reminiscent of The Hurting, in lyrics and music both. The song ends with a lone keyboard playing a few notes, making us think we’re in church, worshiping at the altar of indie electronica.
“She’s the Source” is another one of the standouts with an emotive chorus that makes me think of some of the great analog singer / songwriters of late such as countryman Jason Collett and Josh Ritter, and the presence of a lap steel simply adds to that likeness. In fact, “It’s Easy,” with its guitar, bass and drums (though they might all be produced by a synthesizer) showcase D’Arcy’s versatility with musical styles. The song actually says “It’s easy to lose oneself,” and truer words couldn’t be found to describe what happens to the listener when playing Small Sins. “All Will Be Fine” is the one bonus track, sounding like a kinder, gentler Billy Idol. You can ever picture a sneer on D’Arcy’s face as he utters his ‘yeahs’ through the song.
To tell you the truth, I haven’t heard introspective synthesizer rock this good (excluding the Postal Service) since the ’80s with the Human League, O.M.D. and Erasure. One song flows into the next so smoothly and pleasantly that the album is over before you realize that eleven tracks have soothingly passed by your ears. The last three songs are just as good as the first three and the five in between. “At Least You Feel Something” is confessional and intimate pop at its finest, showing that D’Arcy has learned some lessons from some of his influences, such as Neil Young. It’s his albums, the absence of perfection, and his humanistic style that influenced the human aspects of Small Sins. After all, this could have easily ended up sounding like a Kraftwerk record, but instead is the perfect blend of singer / songwriter organics and processed beauty.
Terrance Terich firmly believes that 1985 is the best year for music. He lives near Seattle with his books, movies, and music.