Mood Swings, the new album from Small Sins, starts with a bang—literally. “If you give me the gun, well, I’ll shoot myself in the foot” are the first words on the album sung by Small Sins frontman/mastermind Thomas D’Arcy. He doesn’t stop there. Nearly every song on Mood Swings ricochets with gun imagery—a stunning contrast to the album’s hypnotic tapestry of shimmering electronics, organic instrumentation, and D’Arcy’s ongoing quest for the most shameless pop hooks possible. “It wasn’t on purpose,” D’Arcy explains, claiming that, other than a short stint in his university gun club, he’s no firearms enthusiast. “It’s a good metaphor for what I was trying to say this time. A loaded weapon is something anxious: there’s always the underlying potential to explode.”
Don’t be surprised, then, if Mood Swings, D’Arcy’s second album under the Small Sins moniker, blows up: he’s aiming at newer, higher targets following the success of Small Sins’ self-titled Boompa debut. Small Sins proved a masterpiece of wistful chamber-pop, its hushed, electro-tinged narratives of love lost and found finding wide acclaim. Blender called it a “lovely piece of campfire synth-pop”, while Spin opined memorably, “Imagine if Jack White had a crush on Kraftwerk.” But after touring relentlessly with the likes of Scissor Sisters and Sloan, D’Arcy’s modus operandi for Small Sins began to change. For one, it started to resemble an actual rock band. Well, sort of, anyway…
D’Arcy had been puzzled by Small Sins’ initial comparisons to the likes of Postal Service and Grandaddy. Once people started seeing the band live, however, critical assessments flew all over the place. Some heard Talking Heads, or the Buzzcocks, or Neil Young—indicating that Small Sins was coming into its own sound. D’Arcy found performing live actually transformed Mood Swings’ material, too. “The first record’s low, whispery stuff was hard to project, so I put everything up an octave to sing it live,” he explains. “Once I started singing more, I got more creative with the melodies I was coming up with. I really found my range, and it made the new songs so much more vivid.”
Off the road, the touring ensemble found themselves occasionally writing together, making it inevitable that D’Arcy would involve the band members in the making of Mood Swings. Typically, the players rarely worked together at the same time. Instead, D’Arcy brought in individual members to add unique flavour to the songs, moving them between his basement, traditional studios, and other unexpected spaces (K-OS even loaned D’Arcy his personal digital playground for a year). Mood Swings’ experimental but collaborative approach extended even to the album’s mix process, for which D’Arcy traveled to Chicago to work with legendary studio guru John McEntire (Tortoise, Stereolab, Sea and Cake, Mary Timony).
Mood Swings proves even richer and more assured than what D’Arcy himself felt he was ever capable of. Each song provides a major stepping stone in D’Arcy’s mission to create the ideal pop artifact with Mood Swings: a cycle that works track-by-track for the iPod generation, but ultimately stands on its own. “I made Mood Swings for those music fans who still actually listen to albums—it should be experienced as a whole,” D’Arcy explains. “At the same time, when I was kid, I mostly listened to oldies radio hits, like Elvis and Chubby Checker, so I’m obsessed with the idea of the simple, perfect pop song. That’s the most important thing: whatever the instrumentation, I want everything to be quick, catchy, and always pop.”