According to Jean-Benoit Dunckel from Air, the name “Darkel” is a curious manifestation, a play on words constructed from his last name, Dunckel, which spelled without the “c” means “dark” in German – hence, “Darkel.”
Beyond that, the name also fits well to the concept of the album, which J.B. claims was recorded at night. Clever indeed, but darkness often leaves one disoriented if not pointed in the right direction, which is exactly how I felt while listening to this album.
Most of Air’s songs use either guest vocalists or the vocals of the band members morphed beyond our familiar cosmos, so I fully assumed that the vocalist on Darkel’s album was a guest singer as soon as the first track “Be My Friend” began. The unsettling voice caught me off guard, and by the time the second piano-led track “At the End of the Sky” began, I found myself rapidly rifling through the liner notes to find out exactly what or who the hell was singing. I was shocked to discover that the creepy, elfish voice is that of Dunckel himself! And as if his pipes weren’t unusual enough on their own, Dunckel’s voice is processed so far on the track “TV Destroy” that Darkel may have a good shot at passing as the only transgendered Smurfette impersonator in existence. Combine that with the agitating and repetitive lyrics (which don’t go far beyond the title), and pretty soon I wanted to forget the TV and destroy Darkel’s album. And that was only by the third track.
So I decided to chill out for a bit and see where the album went. Instead of thinking of Dunckel’s voice as an unwelcome disorientation, I tried to imagine it as a pleasant and prepubescent version of Roger Waters from Pink Floyd. And instead of letting the trite lyrics of “TV Destroy” push me over the edge of sanity, I tried to chew it up and spit it out like the disposable bubblegum pop it was intended as. But with other tracks ranging from epic electro-pop spreads (“Be My Friend”) to lullabies (“Some Men”), I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the album, which seems to lack congruency.
Some tracks, however, seemed to stand out a little higher above the disjointed structure of the album, such as “My Own Sun,” with its bouncy and proud expression of positive energy. And the chill track “Bathroom Spirit” carries a very familiar vibe and vivacity that couldn’t make Dunckel’s contribution to the band Air any clearer. Finally, the track “Earth” is worth mentioning for its appealingly minimalist groove, as well as the funny French accent Dunckel carries as an indicator of his origin.
Overall, however, Darkel’s debut album was a disappointment and didn’t meet the expectations I had built when referring to Dunckel’s past work with Air. I didn’t expect Darkel to be another Air album (and wasn’t hoping for that, either), but I also didn’t expect such a disjointed composite of dissimilar tracks coated in the shards of such a discomforting voice. The voice, in actuality, is secondary and is a component that could have enhanced the character of this album, if only it had been coupled with pleasing tracks. But they weren’t that good. So please, Dunckel, don’t quit your day job.
by Tyler Merkel