Calgary native Mariel Buckley might not realize it, but she and Lana del Rey have a few things in common. Like the sultry pop starlet, Buckley blends punchy 60s girl group pop with somber lyrics and the epic scope of Americana. However, unlike del Rey, Buckley isn’t constructing an elaborate persona. Instead, Buckley’s songwriting is a precision-guided missile aimed of truth. Driving In The Dark vividly paints pictures of the existential questions that dog us.
Driving In The Dark is an album for anyone who’s second-guessed themselves, been in an unhealthy relationship, or felt on the outside of things. In other words, anyone who was young once can dive deep into the album. Buckley’s performance is tightly controlled, even as she sings about big emotions. She exudes cool and the band is similarly restrained.
While Buckley isn’t the first to write about standing on the outside looking in, she uses a queer lens to breath fresh life into familiar country tropes. Buckley’s search for home takes us through lonely highways, fence-jumping, bridge-burning guided by a keening steel guitar. But Buckley’s search for home is not a romantic, self-imposed quest. It’s been forced upon her by outdated social norms.
Driving In The Dark offers simple songs with complex nuance. For example, “Pride” is a gentle, tongue-in-cheek mea culpa of Buckley’s teenage rebellion. The song asks the listener if it’s any wonder Buckley turned out the way she did, given the rejection she faced growing up. She asks, “And if you love me so/Why didn’t I know?/Why didn’t you show it?” However, Buckley is not interested in easy answers. She follows those questions with her own offering: “Tired of playing the victim/Right or wrong I know I left this love neglected.”
Buckley notes that the tension between nostalgia and fear is the driving theme of the album. “The idea of driving into the unknown is especially appealing to me. As human beings we either romanticize longing nostalgia or the fear of immediate and total change. This song was penned in the dead of winter with two other fantastic songwriters who helped me realize my vision for the album as a whole: that the journey into the unknown is a powerful surge, and will push us to find the best within ourselves.”
Listen to Driving In The Dark below.
Buckley resolves that tension on the album’s closer “I Wonder What Is Out There.” The answer is in joyful resistance to social norms and living your life as true to yourself as possible.
They’re bussing in the churches from the outskirts of town
Knocking on our doors trying to wear us down
I wonder if they’ve ever felt this love we found?
I pray some day they do
Find the love I found in you.
The song doesn’t settle for a happy ending, though, noting the “beauty and rust” in the world. However, it settles for optimism, which was the answer all along.
You can learn more about Mariel Buckley on her official website.