A quick look at the first decade of Des Ark could convince you that the band’s mercurial membership policies have stymied the productivity of Aimée Argote’s musical concern. To wit, Des Ark has had at least twice as many drummers as proper albums, making each live appearance by the band somewhat of a guessing game about what to expecta tightly rehearsed and wound duo or trio, a group still finding its chemistry or a hushed Argote, hunched over a guitar or banjo, singing alone?
Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll discover that, personnel shifts considered, Argote’s actually been quite prolific, especially apart from a proper band, with a series of first-take acoustic recordings made on Duke University’s WXDU. The latest of those sessions, WXDU V.3, feels once more like a stolen peek into Argote’s songwriter notebook, as she explores questions of identity, commitment and the barely navigable balances between love and betrayal, respect and hate. These nine raw songs deliver thorough discursions on what it means to take old scars into new places, on navigating the hopeful future with an honest understanding of the painful past. During “Which One of You Assholes Ate Christmas!!!” she plays the role of a passionate lover who handles her grief for a deceased mate by finding new men to act as surrogates for his form, tucking the secret away into this little song; for one of three cuts here featuring the muted assistance of drummer Johnny Ward, “Nitetime Moths,” Argote uses the lepidopteran symbol of the title to touch on self-destructive behavior. “Promise please when you wake in the morning, no regrets” she offers on “Coney Island Street Meat.”
That’s a fitting mantra for Argote, a songwriter who has brutally wrangled the truth of suffering into knotty rock and defiant folk. Here, appropriately, she once again does both without the veil of production.