Chapel Hill hosts a polished pop scene that produced a number of Triple-A radio hits starting in the late '90s. Nearby Durham, on the other hand, is its gritty near-antithesis, and a fitting hometown for Des Ark's Aimee Argote. Speckled with tattoos and more often than not sporting tatters, the singer and guitarist proudly plucks her aesthetic directly from the rougher edges of Durham. And while her recent recordings present more nuance and quiet contemplation than her earlier, more raucous work, an element of raw and unrefined emotion marks Argote's entire oeuvre.
Des Ark established its name as a duo: Argote and drummer Tim Herzog, of Satanic Versus-era Milemarker. In 2005, the duo released Loose Lips Sink Ships on Bifocal Media; recorded by Durham's Zeno Gill and J. Mascis, it combined gutsy riffs with simple, sparse, loud drumming, showcasing an original and even exciting rock band with punk overtones. After a tour with D.C.'s Del Cielo, the pair landed a spot on Engine Down's farewell tour, but were sent home early with physical maladies; before long, Herzog departed for D.C., leaving Argote to ruminate and Des Ark to metamorphose.
When Des Ark emerged from its cocoon a year or so later, Argote was alone with an acoustic guitar, leaving behind much of the loud, bluesy rock of the first album in favor of more Appalachian, folky pieces. A limited-run, self-released album of live tracks proved that the woman with the shrieks and cocky guitar swagger from the first Des Ark album could do just as well with restraint.
The plaintive, affecting lyricism remains in the newer work, warbled more carefully through a Carolinian drawl. Argote doesn't hold back: On the first album, she erupted exorcisms on young love ("You think that I don't know / That my lover's got a sickness that I can't fuck him out of"). On the most recent Des Ark album, a split with Ben Davis on Lovitt Records, she expresses a more mature and calculated, if no less dour, view: "You learn better / When you're always picking lovers who can't help themselves."
Argote returns to the Mr. Roboto Project Saturday with yet another permutation of Des Ark: A full band with a more developed orchestration than the original two-piece and a more refined sense of poppy nuance. Not to worry, though -- the attitude is still definitively Durham.
Des Ark, Julie Sokolow, Every Monster Truck Ever. 7 p.m. Sat., June 30. Mr. Roboto Project, 722 Wood St., Wilkinsburg. $6. All ages. 412-247-9639 or www.therobotoproject.org