The delicacy of a lone classical guitar belies its eminence as an instrument of extraordinary emotional power and compositional complexity. It is this that American multi-genre producer and composer Daedelus (aka Alfred Darlington, born Alfred Weisberg-Roberts) uses as the basis of The Light Brigade. He has not explored the depths to which he reaches here more fully and genuinely in his career.
The understated Sevastopol follows a simple arpeggio with a fingerpicked lead. That style is the basic blueprint for the album, and it has a slight flamenco flair. Darlington plays guitar like a ballet soloist dances through gentle adagios. He is slow, but not dull; he is to be admired for the restraint demonstrated on Baba Yaga and The Victory Of The Echo Over The Voice.
From an instrumentalist whose previous albums are noted for their spotless – innocuous, even – production, The Light Brigade is strikingly unrefined. Battery Smoke features a noticeable mis-pluck about halfway through the track. The sliding of Darlington’s fingers along the fretboard are not only audible but a prime facet of many songs. The imperfections are intimate; emotions, like the humans from which they come, are not flawless, but that does not make them any less beautiful.
Until Artillery is the only track that discloses Darlington’s heritage in electronic music. It’s an ambient affair that features a gentle oscillating keyboard and indistinct background speaking. It’s based on the identically-titled poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson, but that’s difficult to interpret. Belonging sounds close to Darlington’s work with his wife Laura Darlington through their long-running project The Long Lost, as does follow-up track Pre-munitions. Collaborator Young Dad‘s smooth falsetto on Onward sounds vaguely like Thom Yorke or Dallas Green, and it’s backed by an extremely beautiful organ keyboard.
Country Of Conquest is orchestral: it has little guitar or piano, with just strings. It gets a bit self-indulgent and has little in the way of climax, but is still a decent halfway interlude. However, it is an example where the relatively short track lengths of The Last Brigade stand in the way of their emotional or compositional prowess; at 11 tracks and barely 30 minutes, The Last Brigade is not a lengthy listen. Shot And Shell is, likewise, nigh-forgettable as it has little stand out amongst the stronger instrumentals of Sevastopol and Battery Smoke.
But perhaps brevity is the key instrument. Rather than stretch his compositions past their prime, Darlington ends as soon as they finish their statement. It’s maddening in the case of Shot And Sell, but extremely productive in that of Pre-munitions, where Latin rhythm and simple traveling chords need no exposition past their requisite two-and-a-half minutes.
One-third of the album’s length is in two tracks: Tsars And Hussars, and Onward. The former recalls The War On Drugs in its sublime bass, nebulous electronics, and Darlington’s poignant croon. The latter is quite possibly the most low-key track in Darlington’s catalogue. They’ll make or break the album for listeners simply due to how much runtime they take up, and they have an extremely similar vibe.
Rarely can one make out Darlington’s lyrics, but there’s no real need for that. For example, a lot of the power of Onward comes from the sheer sound of his voice rather than any actual word he’s saying. That’s an important concept with regards to appreciating The Light Brigade. Listeners who prefer a bit more distinctness to lyrics will be put off by his delivery, but those who are more melodically inclined will feel what Darlington feels. The Light Brigade demonstrates the continued relevance of the baroque pop genre, and that sweeping compositions are not necessary when a classical guitar speaks best.