Of all the acts that have orbited Toronto's Broken Social Scene, none have embodied the home planet's sprawling, humanist collective ethic better than Kevin Drew's solo work. Along with co-founder Brendan Canning, Drew is the only other member to have had a solo LP — 2010's Spirit If — bear the official "Broken Social Scene Presents" imprimatur. His latest forgoes the sponsorship, but Darlings suggests just how integral Drew was to the collective while also pushing out into new sonic frontiers.
Drew takes BSS's signature blend of soulful grooves and ramshackle rock as his departure point to craft intimate, revelatory confessionals that emphasize the rarity of real connection; he doles out hope and loneliness in equal doses. But where Spirit If sprawled all over the stylistic map on its 66-minute voyage, Darlings sharpens the focus — the 11 tracks average less than four minutes apiece.
The sonic palette is more uniform, too, but no less intriguing for trading expansiveness for depth. With the exception of "Bullshit Ballad," which rolls from processed beats and textures into tumultuous guitar-centric crescendos, nothing recalls those BSS songs that ignited clubs with their strange alchemy of danceable rock catharsis.
Instead, the various emotional hues of late-night after-parties color these songs — mostly through a slew of keys and synths — in diaphanous veils. The hazy textures and narcotic tempo of "My God" keep the song at a pillow whisper, Drew intimating that he's got "a river filled with darlings who connect to the words in my gut."
The pace quickens slightly with "It's Cool," but the song's synths swirl around the listener like a comforting cocoon. "Body Butter" and "Good Sex" highlight Drew's ease in digging deep grooves at mid-tempos, and for depicting everybody's favorite act with lascivious carnality or in post-coital indigo.
"Mexican Aftershow Party," which features that phrase and a circular melody ad nauseum, pushes too far into this new direction. But it's a misstep that outlines the direction's furthest limits, which tells you Drew still wields the same BSS experimental yardstick. Darlings may forgo the arena transcendence of the old home planet, but then again it's after something far more intimate — your heart.
For the most part, its aim is true.