The Little Darlings – Fit For Purpose [Demo]


Originally published at Sonic Dice, July 2009.

We are witness here to the recording debut of Halifax’s very own The Little Darlings, not to be confused with American female-fronted power trio Little Darlings. They deliver Fit for Purpose, a nascent four-track EP which will hopefully gain them greater exposure and possibly even a record deal. The Heat is in the Flowers opens EP with a pleasant, woozy and lethargic atmosphere. It sounds greatly reminiscent of Rilo Kiley – particularly the Take Offs and Landings track Plane Crash in C – featuring a great guitar lick and warm vocals equally recalling Jenny Lewis’ more recent solo work. Jo Nettleton harmonising with herself in the chorus provides the gorgeous vocal highlight on an EP in which the singer is the trump card.

Time and Chance, though not possessing as strong a chorus as the opener, is arguably the standout track, being the most memorable offering present. It benefits from a more straightforward structure than the preceding song; switching the two around in the tracklisting may have been equally positive. Shortest track Darling Baby sees Nettleton in hushed form, unable to fully spread her wings over the dull guitar arpeggio. If You Love Me begins brightly, the EP’s most uptempo material, with the jangly, unproduced guitar sound feeling truly appropriate for the first time. Bassist Paul Gibson adopts a higher-pitched bass tone to compliment the chirpy atmosphere with some Vampire Weekend-ish riffs and quavering notes.

Jo Nettleton’s vocals sound most like Leigh Nash, singer with briefly-popular indie-poppers Sixpence None the Richer, who’s single Kiss Me you may recall reaching Number 4 in the UK charts back in 1999. The comparison ends there however, with The Little Darlings sounding nowhere near as clean or commercial, although every bit as twee. Jules Nettleton’s guitar tone has more twang than chime and the rhythm section seems rather suffocated at times, with voice and guitar given pride of place in the mix. The Little Darlings are also evocative of The Cardigans’ acoustic moments such as Been It and You’re the Storm – only without the interesting chord changes – but this is chiefly thanks to Jo Nettleton and Nina Persson’s vocal similarities.

However, opener and longest track, the six-minute The Heat is in Flowers eventually demonstrates Fit for Purpose’s main flaw. What could easily have ended at the three minute mark preposterously drags on for a further three; once the verses are finished, the track goes absolutely nowhere. Perhaps the band would argue the repeating riffs lend the track a groove-based outro, but with the bass all but inaudible and a paper-thin drum sound, any kind of groove is difficult to achieve. Fit for Purpose as a whole, like the songs considered individually, just seems to outstay its welcome. This four-track EP clocks in at a little less than twenty minutes, which is simply far too long. The songs all have a mellow hazy quality, but tend to wander aimlessly to their conclusion rather than build to any crescendos.

A further problem is The Little Darlings, Jo Nettleton’s striking voice aside, sound like any other unsigned support band you’ll see in clubnights up and down the land. So Nettleton is afforded as much coverage as possible, to differentiate The Little Darlings in such a crowded marketplace. But this backfires variously on all members of the band, who at times seem comfortable in their role of supporting Nettleton’s frankly heavenly vocals. But at others, she is left arbitrarily echoing a refrain, seemingly just to lengthen the track. The Heat is in the Flowers and If You Love Me are both particularly guilty of this, the rhythm section unwilling to stray too far from Nettleton’s voice, leaving her in the lurch, cooing the same line ad nauseum. When the backing band – without wishing to sound too condescending, that’s all The Little Darlings boil down to at times –  are let off the lead though, it’s fairly clear that they don’t have the ideas to hold the listeners attention alone.

The real measure of success for an EP such as Fit for Purpose is whether it will get the band signed or not. And in this case, the short answer is not. These four tracks are not without their promise or their charm, but there simply aren’t many memorable hooks amongst this meandering material. The Little Darlings must decide what they are; support band for Jo Nettleton, or navel-gazing indie types. In the former’s case they should write some whacking great, happy-clappy, major key tunes for their next record. If the latter however, simply something more interesting would be appreciated. If The Little Darlings learn anything from the release of Fit for Purpose, it should be self-censorship. Oh, and don’t name your next release anything that connotes mediocrity, blandness, compromise, or any combination thereof.

5 out of 10.

Sonic Dice Score: 3 out of 6.

The Little Darlings on Myspace
The Little Darlings on Last.fm

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