To start – School Of Night is the debut solo effort by Darby Cicci. Darby Cicci is a member of The Antlers. This is not an EP by The Antlers. This is an EP called School Of Night, by a band/artist called School Of Night. A lot of people will make comparisons to The Antlers, including me. Sorry. It’s inevitable and I just needed to get that out of the way writes Nat Lyon.
It is almost impossible to talk about the School Of Night EP without dragging The Antlers into the conversation. Both projects rely heavily on processed sounds – to the point where it is often difficult to discern where Peter Silberman’s guitar ends and where Darby Cicci’s keyboards start – even when you see them live. School of Night provides some insight to this mystery: Darby Cicci is a sonic craftsman of first order.
In the downtime between recording, engineering, and performing with The Antlers between 2011 and 2012 Cicci would stay up late at night and experiment with new technologies and new soundscapes. The collection of five songs on School Of Night is a result of something that used to be an experiment. It’s a thing now. It’s an interesting EP because it showcases Cicci’s musicianship, songwriting, and mad engineering skills and documents the evolution of an artist. While best known as a keyboardist, Cicci is also more than capable at the bass, guitar, drums, bowed banjo, and trumpet. Actually, he really, really, really likes the trumpet, which appears on (by my best guess) all five songs on School Of Night. In addition to engineering and producing the last two releases by The Antlers, Cicci has also produced albums for Yellow Ostrich and Porcelain Raft. With each new project it is clear that he learned valuable lessons and has grown in the process. A quite natural, and welcome, outcome of Darby Cicci’s evolution is The School Of Night solo project and this EP.
Being a multi-instrumentalist, who is also self-recording often tempts the DIY artist to hurl everything at the wall. Cicci fights this temptation and keeps all of the arrangements under control. The EP starts loud and thick with Lying, but there is noticeable variation in textures between the songs. The structures are open and gently unpredictable with reference points to Cluster and Eno, as well as Grizzly Bear and The Antlers. The songs Fire Escape and Vacuum, fall on the sparse/minimal side in terms of their overall arrangements and Vacuum is perhaps the most well crafted song on the School of Night. Cicci’s guitar work is clean and understated (and I would have liked to have heard more of it). The sampled analogue percussion carries a steady beat while synth and guitar lines are woven in and out. Vacuum has space. It also has a very rich and well designed texture that is engaging.
While all of the songs on School Of Night have lyrics Cicci uses effects heavily, and the vocals are left relatively low in the mix favouring the soundscapes as the lead to carry the weight in each piece. Cicci’s vocals add a melodic element more strongly than a message which might be completely by design. The lyrics throughout are as gauzy as the music and somewhat abstract, which is not a bad thing. A few examples include:
“Love is math to me, and we’ll suffer…” – Lying.
“We’ll let the hurricane design our future…” – Doktor.
“Illumination, a condition of erosion…” – Play Dead
The imagery borders on romance, alienation, and resignation. Thematically, this is not new territory but the abstract language, while ambiguous at times, is very creative. The layer of lyrical abstraction contributes complexity to the music but does not overcomplicate or distract.
This EP is difficult to classify and these days labels carry little meaning. On first listen, the School Of Night might be characterized by some as a post-rock-lite electronica mashup. The five songs span 32 minutes with the shortest (Fire Escape) clocking in at 5:38 and the longest (Vacuum) running 7:17. This might seem excessive, but, if you listen to the music and read the lyrics, you might (as I have) come to the conclusion that Darby Cicci is cleverly coloring well outside the lines. Each song has a distinctive groove and theme but within each song are subtle and multiple variations which hold your interest well past the 5-minute mark.
The open structures of School Of Night, unchained from the predictable verse/chorus/bridge arrangement, provide each song with a unique sound. If you like The Antlers, Lawrence Rothman, or the more synth/chip sound of Neon Indian, you will love the School Of Night. Cicci’s use of interplay between the analogue and digital instruments and samples that make up each song is well crafted and he builds very quiet walls of sound. The lyrical themes might seem cold and alienating, but paired with the warm production and performance The School Of Night is a great introduction to the solo work of Darby Cicci.
In October, Cicci will be doing a limited tour in support of School Of Night. Amazingly, he will be performing solo, with no assistance or support from other musicians. The live performance, like the School Of Night EP, should be similar to watching a highwire artist – it will be scary as hell, but you know that he will not fall.
For more information on School of Night go here. They are also on Facebook. You can stream tracks from School of Night, as well as other mixes/remixes by Darby Cicci on SoundCloud and follow @minusgreen on Twitter – he is insanely funny.
School of Night will be performing on 30 October at Fleece in Bristol and 31 October at Shacklewell Arms.