Tim PRESLEY nearly flinches when the word "genre" spills out of an interviewer's mouth and hovers in the heat of an Eagle Rock afternoon. "Oh, no, we don't want to hear that," the singer-guitarist for Darker My Love says. "We don't want to fall under any blanket . . . blankets smother you."
So peel away the stoner rock and shoegaze labels you may have affixed to the Los Angeles quintet after their eponymous 2006 sonic thicket of a debut and meet "2," a sophomore album so deep in aural and emotional layers you don't quite know what to call it. "People are going to be surprised," singer-bassist Rob Barbato says, smiling behind his big beard. "We're doing some things we haven't done before."
They've reshaped their sound largely with the same cast of characters, having added only keyboardist Will Canzoneri to a lineup that includes principal songwriters Presley and Barbato and original members Jared Everett (guitar) and Andy Granelli (drums).
When they hooked up with L.A.-based indie label Dangerbird Records over two years ago, Darker My Love had captured an aesthetic that got them lumped in with Sabbath/Spiritualized disciples such as Dead Meadow and the Warlocks, and they backed it with shows that pulverized throngs of Silver Lake eardrums.
Nice, but no cause for creative stasis. The band made sure to tell anybody who'd listen that their body of work was only a starting point, and that those songs were even a little long in the tooth.
"That's the great thing about any art," Barbato says. "You're never really through."
Written in stops and starts over a yearlong period while serving as the backing band for the Fall, "2" (due Aug. 5) melds West Coast psychedelia with vintage Britpop churn. It's hyper-harmonized psych-pop on HGH, with antecedents from throughout pop's Wayback Machine: the Beatles, Beach Boys and Byrds; the Jesus and Mary Chain, Charlatans UK and Verve; and even lesser-known SoCal acts such as the Lassie Foundation and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Front to back, the focus of the album, which Everett calls "a hitchhiker's guide to getting through L.A.," is on the songwriting. "We tried for a cohesive thread through the whole record," Barbato says.
The songs wrestle with dualities both material and spiritual. The first single, "Two Ways Out," is a wry riff on life and death that's every bit as gleefully disembodied as its video. ("It's the optimist's side of being sad," Presley says with a smile.) "Talking Words" weds gnarly guitars to ruminative pretty-boy vocals with dizzying results. "Pale Sun" somehow turns into a slow-mo trip over its agitated underpinning.
If some of the alchemy seems a bit heady, Darker My Love can point to producer Dave Cooley (J Dilla, Silversun Pickups) and his estimable sonic vocabulary.
"At first we didn't see how someone coming in from the outside could help us," Presley says. "But he put a leash on some things that needed to have a leash on them.
"From his work in hip-hop or remastering old records, there's such a wide spectrum of music he's into, it's impressive. He even took an interest in the lyrics and helped us make them as good as they could be."
And while the songs on "2" figure to acquire the signature Darker My Love wall of sound when the quintet plays them live, Presley, for one, will delight if the new album inspires some double-takes. "Hopefully, it's a good record," he says. "And it'll be great if I hear somebody say, 'What's that?' "
DARKER MY LOVE
WHERE: Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood
WHEN: 8 p.m. Aug. 7
INFO: (310) 276-6168; www.troubadour.com
ALSO: DML plays a free warm-up show at 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Echo, 1822 Sunset Blvd., L.A.