If you go to Drexel University, you know about our great music industry program. If you have been to some of the local house shows, you know that there’s an incredible effort to create and sustain a West Philly music scene heralded by most of the music industry students themselves. You might have met some of the Drexel students involved with local funk band Darla and seen them play in different bands throughout the past couple of years. But if you have not heard their latest EP, “Darla Forever!” then you don’t truly understand the degree of talent that exists within the Drexel student body. Released Jan. 20, the EP represents the sublime culmination of both a passion for music and a strong understanding of it in the form of a seven-piece funk band.
An EP consisting of only three songs seemed to me a little lackluster at first, but in this case it’s quality over quantity. The songs are just long enough to allow you time to get accustomed to the grooves and melodies and jam out without ever overstaying their welcome. The first track, “Claudia Jean, Where Are My Keys,” lures you in with an ambitious alternative guitar progression. The drums and saxophone kick in and you start to feel the funk in action. Not even a minute into the first song comes the first guitar solo where you might expect someone to start singing if Darla wasn’t an instrumental band. And though at first, the music might feel weird or a little off without vocals, every instrument is given a voice in the songs, and as a listener, I am happy about that.
Once the main melody builds up and enters the scene, it stays for the entire second half of the song. What really makes Darla shine is their ability to build a melody and keep it fun and exciting through each variation. “Pretty Mess,” the second track on the EP and my favorite, is the prime example of that. The recording here is from a live “Feedback Loop” session, of which there is a video on YouTube that I highly recommend checking out. All that fun you feel listening to the music is directly translated from the obvious joy Darla gets out of playing it. As for the melody to “Pretty Mess,” it is rumored that audio engineer and keys player for the band, Kosta Johnson, wrote all the parts in a cabin in the woods with only a two-track tape cassette recorder, a couple bottles of Pinot Noir and his acoustic guitar. I cannot comment on whether or not the rumors are true but I do know that Johnson really likes his wine.
I like to think of the third track, “Sooz Clues,” as belonging to the drummer of the band, Richie Straub. While the saxophone solos are incredible, the percussion steals the spotlight. It’s perhaps the heaviest of the songs on the EP, and goes to show for the versatility of the band when it comes to creating a unique funk sound. If you want to hear the new EP, head over to their Web page on Facebook, Band Camp or even Spotify and you’ll find it. Darla is currently working on their next EP. They are playing at the Ardmore Music Hall Feb. 15, where they open for George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. Regardless of whether you’ll get to hear any of the new songs, you’ll have a great time.