During 2015, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!
Daphne Loves Derby was a band that I still find hard to describe. Calling them an indie band is a disservice; the intricate weaving of pop melody, harmony, deep echoing ballads and the croon of Kenny Choi’s delicate voice holding it all together always meant so much more.
On the Strength of All Convinced was a beast; the likes of which I had never known before. The production was just sharp enough to sound as though the band was playing live and the descriptive lyrics had the acute details of poetry. It wasn’t enough to just hear the songs, the hooks and the melody – you could actually see it. Ten years later, not only am I waiting for anything to come along even remotely similar, I’m waiting to just hear anything at all from Kenny Choi.
By the time On the Stregnth of All Convinced came out, DLD was already fairly well known as the first band to hit a million plays on Pure Volume. I happened to find them by accident: their album cover caught my eye in a record store and followed me wherever I walked until I picked it up. It’s the first album cover I can think of that, in retrospect, perfectly describes the record.
The light colors of Easter green slowly fading into an even lighter blue, like an aquatic sunset hid behind the image of a lighthouse hanging off the edge of the planet itself, is such a simple symbol for the theme of the album. Also, the flying whale skeletons help, too.
Thematically, the album is fairly simple when given a broad sense – wanting to see everything the Earth has to offer, but being too small to ever find it all. But the dream is alive and almost physical through lyricism that describes surreal settings (“You Versus the Sea”) and manifestations of emotion (“Sundays”) that most bands glaze over with sappy anti-love songs.
Musically, the diversity between songs is something that few bands would attempt, especially on their debut. When comparing the raging pop and stacked harmonies of “Hammers and Hearts” to the tender snare drum and hauntingly soft guitar of “You Versus the Sea”, or the lounge jazz pop of “Middle Middle” with the charmingly minimalistic cymbal taps and falling keyboard of “Debussie”, each song is a world apart. Everything from pop to jazz to folk flow together so sweetly and naturally that Daphne Loves Derby seem like a band that have been at this for decades, rather than the young upstarts that they were.
For everything the music is, though, it is Kenny Choi’s vocals and lyrics that really tie the whole experience together. His croon is nearly Sinatra-esque in nature, but manages to rise to proper singing or swallow itself into a tight whisper that dares you to listen closer. It’s an odd mixture of simplistic and elegant vocal range.
On the Strength of All Convinced is a totem of emo and poetic visuals. For each raw tug at the heart strings, such as “Birthday Gallery” (“I’ve been worn away by birthday memories and galleries / Of pictures in my head of you when I’m away / I’d do anything to keep this fear from flowing through my veins, oh / I’d stay awake and fret just for you”.), there is a highly detailed description of grandeur, such as “Pollen and Salt” (“I have been holding my breath, for too many nights in a row / And somewhere on coastlines unknown to me / You paint your dreams, with reds and blues and greens / Yeah you’re painting daffodils by the sea, without me”.)
The idea behind the theme of the album is still something that I fall in love with at each listen: The world may be far too big of a place to see everything it has to offer, but love will always fill the distance. Travel and coastlines play a part with centering the imagery, such as “A Year On An Airplane” as Choi sings, “I crossed some standard state lines and finally found myself so far away from home / And even though New England intrigued us, thrilled us, our bones were cold as sticks and stones / We flew over the cascades / Just to find ourselves in storms we’ve never known”.
Not everything is grand though, like any journey there are moments of darkness, such as “You Versus the Sea”. Choi describes a girl who has struggled with hardship for years, and the dream he has of her standing in the sea, walking further and further into the waves. “Was it hope that kept you alive through the years and / Should I even call it living?”
However, perhaps one of the greatest songs the band has written, is also their most simple. It’s just the rhythmic tapping of cymbals and the soft exploration of a keyboard in “Debussie”. It’s one of the softest songs I’ve ever heard, and one of the shortest, but it’s the lynchpin for the entire album. Everything before it danced a fine line between darkness and dreamlike wonderment, but “Debussie” puts perspective on the fact that the world is too vast, too large to fully comprehend the darkness, but the holes left by it, when filled with love, completes everything.
“Will my life be long enough to see the things I want to see? / I believe this world is just too big for me / This life is just a blink of an eye, a glimpse into a world we were never meant to see / So don’t hang on to anything at all / And all the things we have and all the people we have known / Will fade away so quickly into the deep / And memories of love will be the only warmth we have in the end”.
Capping off the album is a warm pop song “What We Have Been Waiting For”, welcoming the summer and saying goodbye to winter. It’s also a wish to relive and fix the days spent obsessing over the vastness and loss with the new perspective given by “Debussie”. Much like the warm green melts away the blue on the album cover, the new found positive attitude washes away the darkness, doubt and fear of not experiencing everything, as Choi pleas to the summer sun, “Save me from the worst I’ve known and let me relive the days I’ve blown away / Remember all the times we’ve wasted, drowning ourselves from foolish dreams / We were betrayed by our own hope, but the summer will be a sweet revenge”.
I may be reading way too much into this album, but it has never gotten old to me. It was pivotal, even as a symbol, of keeping my head above water during the darkest year of my life and not letting depression completely take me. Sitting alone in my car at 2 in the morning, this album would spin until the final note of “What We Have Been Waiting For” and always make me ready to face the next day with a positive attitude.
Daphne Loves Derby have long since disappeared (though you can still hear the magnificent guitarist Jason Call), but the message and passion of their work still lives on, as strong as ever. It’s hard to find an album whose theme and message don’t age, but when you do, it latches onto you for a lifetime. It’s the strength to keep you wanting to see everything there is.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and didn’t buy the purple DLD Zebra wearing sunglasses shirt when he saw them live years ago. Why wouldn’t you get it? They’re gone now, stupid.
I’m so glad I’m not the only one still loving and missing Daphne Loves Derby. I booted up my old (old) iPod and have been rediscovering their work – it’s been wonderful. I really appreciate your affection for them and the sincerity in this dedication. Hope you have a great holiday, Kyle.
Steve from Philly
The song TENNIS COURT SOUNDTRACK & MIDNIGHT HIGHWAY hits me so hard. I cling unto those songs while I’m in pain fixing MYSELF again.
– Rob from Philippines