Fat Wreck Chords
Whenever an entrenched punk frontman announces solo intentions as a folk-punk troubadour, it’s hard not to proceed cautiously. After all, it’s a crowded scene, and anything short of inspiring just won’t cut it amidst front runners like Chuck Ragan, Dave Hause, Sundowner, Brendan Kelly and Jason Cruz. After sitting on the sidelines observing his Fat Wreck peers, Swingin’ Utters co-vocalist Darius Koski joins the party with his first solo effort, Sisu. Rest assured you can leave any of that aforementioned skepticism at the door – Sisu fast reveals itself as one of the most dynamic acoustic/folk solo debuts of the year.
Darius Koski embraces a refreshingly traditional approach to country and folk that distances him from his counterparts. Sisu’s fifteen tracks play out in forty minutes of geographically and generationally varied inspirations rooted in a dusty, gritty and genuine delivery. “Fond Of, Lost To,” with its clear old-country leanings and thumping bass, fits the bill as an opening strummer. Rooted in a honky tonk core, Koski’s rustic persona lives on the surface of simple tracks like “Listen!” and “Do Nothing.” The twanging distortion and deep, accompanying melodic baritone vocal harmonies make for quick tempoed strummers informed from a career of writing punk tunes. An entire album in this style would have been a strong statement, but Sisu eyes much grander aspirations.
If only for a song or two at a time, Darius Koski pulls from all walks of punk-infused, country lovin’ life. For instance, traces of Tater Famine and Greenland Is Melting flavour “Empty Thing’s” sultry acoustic notes and gliding beat. Like something from an idyllic sunny-day blue-sky movie montage, the effect feels foreign in Koski’s songwriting career – but it works. Confidence is key in “Tension Talk” as the song draws upon a rustic rambler attitude akin to Larry & His Flask. Meanwhile, “Contacts and Contracts” breezily sails along with a poetic acoustic poise typically reserved for moody indie-folk outfit Have Gun. Will Travel. “Bells” even channels a heavy 60’s psychedelia with Koski slowing down and forcing out a wiry vocal presence circa Robyn Hitchcock. Alternatively, the violin and piano duo in “Paper Tigers, Plastic Lions” make for some sort of cinematic, suspenseful amalgamation of gothic folk origin – the type that put Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Butcher Knives and early Elliott Brood on the map. But perhaps the most encouraging surprise is the downright addictive and poppy nature of “Show Me The Way’s” whistling country chorus (I found myself whistling this tune for weeks on end).
Sisu only loses steam momentarily during some of the slower, sappier moments. “So Help Me” and “On Leaving” lack the instrumental “oomph” of their counterparts, falling in the shadow of the album’s masterful and emotional concluding piece, “Everybody Leaves.”
“I’m always just passing through, I’m always on the move,” proclaims Koski during the album’s final moments – and you’d be hard pressed to find a more representative description of Sisu’s diverse eclectic path. Simply put, Darius Koski is a sonic nomad that refuses to stay pinned down by any one style. That Koski keep listeners guessing as to Sisu’s evolving path makes for an entirely original and worthwhile experience that more than justifies Darius Koski’s inaugural solo effort.