Just like any successful artist – especially on a third album – the band tries to build on this success while also providing something fresh to make an even heavier mark. Capacities, Up Dharma Down’s latest studio album, does just that in many ways. As always, Armi Millare’s vocals are prominent, powerful, and at times utterly captivating. Capacities, however, is less about Armi’s voice and more about the band as a whole exploring their newfound experience, skill and chemistry – and sharing it with the listening public. Armi, Carlos, Ean and Paul are all audible on each track, more so than on any of the two previous albums.
“Turn it Well,” the first track of the album no less, is a fantastic testament to this maturing process. It’s decidedly upbeat, but is still full of that tenderness we’re used to hearing from the band. In fact, the track features a little bit of everything we’ve grown to expect from Up Dharma Down: solid vocals, catchy riffs, a magnetic bass line, and all that 80’s synth goodness from the backbeat. The elements come together, though, into a song that blows away all expectations. It’s somewhat of a false prelude, as the rest of the album turns more sentimental after track one. The group goes back to the formula that got them to where they are now – emotionally viscous keyboard and vocals, light and airy guitar, and a heavy, pulsating beat. Still, the formula works, and with it they make some of the best songs they ever wrote in “Indak,” “Feelings,” and “Luna.”
What makes this version of that formula so special, however, is the incorporation of a fresh electronic sound that, I feel, has been dying to be heard. Listening to the album, there are times when you’ll think that the romantic, almost heartbreaking foreground of the vocals and guitar blend flawlessly with the heady synthesizer and drum samples. “Tadhana” is the perfect example of this style, and when you’re wiping up your tears at the end of it, you won’t know whether they were tears of emotion (because of the lyricist’s unfailing love) or tears of joy at how damn good the song sounded. Probably both.
It took four years for Up Dharma Down to release this album, and who knows how long it’ll be until the next one. It probably doesn’t really matter – the band has more than enough ambition and musical firepower to keep itself relevant indefinitely. They’re so much better in person that it’s almost a sin to say you haven’t gone out to see them (if you’re guilty, go check their site and see when they play in a bar near you).
As far as recorded material is concerned, Capacities is more than enough for the moment. It is, in its entirety, an excellent album. On it, Up Dharma Down doesn’t stray too far away from its musical identity, and at the same time explores an exciting new dimension that’s raw, original and still immensely intriguing. A (Joey Gutierrez)