Published February 1997, Live Wire magazine


99% Bulletproof

Certain critics are bound to whine that Darlahood's first album marks the return of a riff-heavy, self-indulgent, guitar-fueled brand of "head" music that went out of style with strawberry rolling papers and $30 ounces.

I say it's about damn time.

And, based on the record's recent climb [No. 16 when this was written] up the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and the success of the first single, "Grow Your Own" - so do an awful lot of other people.

Packed with a power, pulse and swagger similar to what now passes for "alternative" music; Big Fine Thing, the New York-based three-piece's Reprise Records debut, tempers its radio-ready marketability with something most bands seem to lack these days - roots.

Not just roots, but solid roots.

Roots that reach a bit deeper than those of the usual Green Day, Pearl Jam and Nirvana clones who flicker briefly on the charts before sinking back into obscurity. Roots that show an understanding and appreciation for what inspired those bands to pick up their instruments in the first place.

And, as they careen from one exuberant blast of T-Rex-, ZZ Top-, 'Stones-, Hendrix-, Bad Company-, Led Zeppelin-, Cheap Trick-, King Crimson-, Humble Pie-, Beck- (Jeff, that is) and Beatles-fueled wad of slashing, sneering, dangerously-humming, guitar-dominated noize to another, the 12 outstanding songs on Big Fine Thing do just that.

"I've found that it always helps to have a good musical vocabulary," guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Luke Janklow comments wryly. "On the other hand, I don't think we're a particularly 'retro' sounding band. Basically, what it comes down to is that I listen to all sorts of music. I listen to music that came out yesterday; and I listen to music that came out 25 or 30 years ago. I just seem to be more inspired," he says after a brief pause, "on the whole, by music that was made at some point in the past."

"Don't get me wrong," Janklow is quick to add, "there's a lot of new stuff that I really like. I love Tom Waites, PJ Harvey and a lot of other music that's out there now, but, well there's a reason why people still love the Beatles," he says with conviction. "And there's a reason why Elvis Presley records still touch people. I just don't like the stigma that comes with a 'retro' tag because it implies some sort of an agenda - which has nothing at all to do with us."

In addition to a sprawling, free-wheeling respect for what came before, each track on Big Fine Thing updates its arena rawk beginnings and achieves a chart-worthy, "modern" rock sound via subtle (and not so subtle) swipes from the riff closets of newer groups such as Big Black, Meat Puppets, Mary On The Dash, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr., Buffalo Tom, Hüsker Dü, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.

Despite their far-reaching, yet fairly obvious influences, Janklow, drummer/songwriter/backing vocalist Joe Magistro and bassist David Sellar (working with Bush, Morrissey and David Bowie producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley) have crafted a truly unique collection of music that practically demands an air guitar frenzy with every spin.

"There are people out there who act as if what we're doing is some sort of a novelty thing," laughs Janklow at the response songs such as "99% Bulletproof," "R.S.V.P.," "I've Got Pictures" and "Watch Your Mouth" have received. "You know, as if loud, loose, guitar-heavy music was an oddity."

"We wrote a lot of songs for this record," continues the lanky, long-haired guitarist, "but were pretty merciless about what finally wound up on it. We wanted 12 strong, memorable tracks - so we wrote nearly 70 songs and culled the final selection from those."

And, while 70 may seem like an unusually large number of songs to write, what else, really, is there to do when you're snowbound in upstate New York during what turns out to be the biggest blizzard of the last two decades?

"We rented this huge, old house near Woodstock [Big Fine Thing was recorded at Bearsville Studios] with the intent of getting away from it all for a little while," recalls Janklow with a wry chuckle. "We wanted to woodshed with our instruments, write a few new songs and get better acquainted musically with David [who had only recently joined the band]. We wound up being snowed in together for what seemed like forever!" he laughs.

"Our time alone really helped us get ready for this album in that we had a chance to do our musical homework and flesh out and experiment a little with each song," he offers. "We walked into the studio knowing, for the most part, what we wanted to achieve and where we hoped to go with each track."

"All we intended to do when we set out to make this record was to well, make a record, you know?" he laughs. "To come up with something you could listen to and enjoy every time, all the way through. Something that challenged you a little each time you heard it - and gave you something new back every time you played it."

Mission accomplished.


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