Gray, unpleasant land

Kid Dakota imagines a new empire, same as the old empire

Keri Carlson

WWe will darken the heavens/ We will blot out the sun/ We will build a new Egypt/ We will form a new God/ In our own image,” Darren Jackson, the frontman of Kid Dakota sings at the end of his song “Homesteader.”

Kid Dakota’s new album “The West Is the Future” is not an optimistic forecast. The Midwestern landscapes Jackson paints in his songs are cold, dark and lonely.

Kid Dakota’s first album “So Pretty” mapped out Jackson’s songwriting themes of hopeless dreamers, alienation and especially drug addiction – which Jackson draws from his own experience.

To emphasize the bleak and sorrowful view of his home state of South Dakota, and the Midwest in general, Jackson composes slow, haunting, indie rock which fits perfectly on the Chair Kickers label, run by the Duluth, Minn., band Low.

Whereas many bands who dabble in slow-core fail to create a distinct sound, a Kid Dakota song is instantly recognizable. Jackson’s vocals shake and waver, yet remain strong and prominent. Mostly, though, Kid Dakota’s songs often revolve around or retreat into a waltz. The slow waltzes help form Jackson’s vision of the Midwest.

“The West Is the Future” is more dramatic than “So Pretty,” with crashing cymbals, lingering guitars and greater tempo shifts. It makes “The West Is the Future” more evocative and epic.

The song “Ten Thousand Lakes” best sums up the album. Jackson delicately howls, “I’m in Minnesota again for the winter/ I didn’t come for the ice fishin’/ I didn’t come for duck huntin’/ I’m not Scandinavian/ Or in search of Paul Bunyan/ I came for the taper/ I came for the tapeworm/ Well I came to get better.”

Though “The West Is the Future” is a pessimistic take on the Midwest, and the United States in general, there is promise of getting better. Darren Jackson does not portray the West as perpetually doomed, but shows how close we are.