Small Sins
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Small Sins

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The best kept secret in music


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2006 - Self- Titled Debut (Astralwerks Records)


Feeling a bit camera shy


Thomas D’Arcy marches to the beat of his own drum machine. That’s what D’Arcy—the solo mastermind behind Small Sins (formerly known as The Ladies And Gentlemen), who release its self-titled Astralwerks debut on April XX, 2006—discovered after spending the better chunk of a decade in bands percolating around the indie-rock scene of his Toronto, Canada hometown. By Christmas 2004, D’Arcy found his band broken up and himself in the midst of a “mid-twenties crisis.” “I was really questioning what I was doing with my life,” D’Arcy says. “Why am I in this band I don’t love? Why am I not making music that I do love? I was thinking back to how things used to be, when it was pure spirit and fun. Music had become work, yet I still felt like I should be getting to work on something.”

And get to work he did. D’Arcy retreated alone to the basement of his childhood home: armed with little more than a Roland 707 drum machine, a clutch of vintage Moog keyboards, and a sixteen-track recorder, he was determined to create sounds that reflected the passion that led him to music in the first place. After nearly a year of woodshedding, D’Arcy fulfilled his goal, emerging with Small Sins. A masterpiece of heartfelt electro chamber-pop, Small Sins bubbles with gorgeously layered harmonies, synth gurgles, and hook-filled tales of love lost and found as honest and bracing as the Canadian winter. Despite its intensely personal nature, Small Sins became D’Arcy’s most well-received musical venture yet. Well-regarded Vancouver-based indie label Boompa released Small Sins initially to great acclaim in Canada, the album’s success helping Boompa gain a distribution deal with EMI; the buzz became even more prevalent after a triumphant, sold-out showcase at Austin’s SXSW music festival, with Astralwerks signing D’Arcy under his Small Sins moniker in 2005.

And with success came the comparisons. Critics found parallels in Small Sins sound to the melancholy atmospherics of the Magnetic Fields, the widescreen man-machine pop of Grandaddy, and the superstar electronica-indie hybridists the Postal Service. While complimentary, D’Arcy finds such assessments largely coincidental. “Those are the obvious comparisons that are very easy to draw, as those bands use keyboards and drum machines, too,” D’Arcy explains. “Grandaddy have a cool balance of electro and organic sounds, but I don’t really think my music sounds like them; I didn’t even hear the Postal Service album until I was almost done with the record. Actually, the last couple years I’ve had dissatisfaction with modern music in general. I haven’t appreciated too many new bands these days. There are some standouts—Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco and the first three records by Spoon are amazing—but other than that, I’ve stopped paying attention to what other people are doing.”

Instead, D’Arcy’s been listening to old punk rock like the Ramones and Buzzcocks and even older iconoclasts Neil Young. “Neil Young is totally punk rock,” D’Arcy says. “There’s something going on there that you can’t describe. Maybe every vocal part isn’t nailed, maybe the production is shitty; still, there’s something in it that’s so special and organic you can’t put your finger on, that can’t be reproduced. That’s been an influence on this record: if something isn’t recorded or played perfectly, if it works for the song, I kept it in.” This handcrafted approach keeps Small Sins’ electronic-based music from the robotic. “I tried hard to make everything sound human,” D’Arcy says. “You might not be able to tell if something is a loop, but knowing that I played it all the way through by hand, maybe there’s some sort of feel in there coming through.”

A human touch as well comes out in the literary, minimalist songwriting captured on Small Sins, which documents the ins, outs, ups, downs and betrayals of D’Arcy’s mid-twenties crisis: via his near-whispered vocals and delicate yet complex instrumentation, D’Arcy spins evocative, simple tales of little junkie girls and the boy-men that love them, the challenging confessional subject matter belied by insistent pop hooks. “Stay,” the album’s first single, couples its drum-machine pulse and disembodied synth lines with a dark but maddeningly infectious chorus: “You can stay if you want to/But you can’t sleep in my bed.” D’Arcy doesn’t rely entirely on electronic sonics for emotional color, however: he strips away much of the circuitry on the largely acoustic, fragile “At Least You Feel Something” before it simmers anew into a haunting, affecting space-rock ballad.

The journey to Small Sins began when D’Arcy was born in the UK’s Isle of Guernsey in 1979, an island in the English Channel with a rich history. His family immigrated two years later to Toronto, Canada, where D’Arcy’s music career began in earnest as he reached high-school age during the grunge era. “I’m young enough so that I liked the Breeders before I knew who the Pixies were,” D’Arcy laughs. “And when a