Darkel is the new solo project of Air’s JB Dunkel. His debut album screams moodiness. When you hold it in your hand, the black sleeve, black and white photography and the double-sided black CD all convey darkness.
Needless to say I slapped this into my CD player expecting some top-pedigree moody chillout more akin to the bleak soundscapes displayed on Air’s excellent soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides. The album’s opener Be My Friend certainly fits your expectations and immediately puts you in mind of a subverted Tubular Bells. It feels like a promising track and was a potential album highlight until I realised it also reminded my of the theme tune to the TV show Casualty.
It’s possible that my overactive imagination made me take this album less seriously from that point. Things began to fall apart when the cheerfully jaunty At The End of The Sky arrived shattering the mood by being quite happy. It’s not a bad track in itself, but it feels a little out of place. TV Destroy, puts you off with the line “He’s got the TV on, she’s got the TV on,” repeated ad infinitum until you’d much rather turn the TV on than listen any longer.
On the whole the album’s lyrics are fairly basic, but if I’m honest I couldn’t write an album in French (unless it was a concept album about a man trying to find his way to the train station). Where Darkel falls down is in its uneven pace and its breathless vocals which rarely vary and lack any bite.
That being said, there are a couple of lovely tracks which are great: Some Men is a simplistically effective ballad and Pearl also meets expectations with aplomb. Earth is also good, with atmospheric synths and a throbbing bass line. It’s frustrating that the rest of the album falls short of that standard and only gets its act together towards the end.
I really wanted to like this album but there’s nothing here that imprints itself immediately on the brain. After a few listens I still find it difficult to get into. There are flashes of brilliance here and there that remind you why Dunkel and Air are so popular, but unfortunately this solo project is missing an indefinable something to make it hang together.
Sometimes moody, sometimes optimistic, this doesn’t feel sure of what it wants to be and instead feels a little like an Air outtakes album.