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Another Fine Mess

Daedelus Revisits Rave's Everything-Goes Approach to Music Mixing

Hexagon, Sept. 8
Daedelus' new album hearkens back to vintage rave culture, in its own peculiar way.

By Michael Byrne | Posted 9/3/2008

Daedelus, Eliot Lipp and Matthew Diamond

Sept. 8, The Hexagon

Messy isn't necessarily sloppy; it can still be calculated. The mess-as-aesthetic is something Daedelus does best. Broadly electronic and leaning heavily toward left-field hip-hop, reducing what the Victorian-costumed--why not?--gentleman named Alfred Darlington (né Weisberg-Roberts) is, exactly, musically up to these days is like mapping preteen schoolyard behavior, or ants. For most of his career, Darlington has focused on experimental, sample-based to the point of collage hip-hop production, but this past summer's Love to Make Music To (Ninja Tune), a release that rivals the output of out-hop's current high-water mark, Flying Lotus, leaps backward into what might sound like a very disorganized record crate.

It's not, of course, disorganized. It's organized by the sometimes arbitrary rules of a record geek who spends a great deal of time figuring on ways of reorganizing it. Darlington is fixated on the musical past, particularly the notion of viewing and interpreting it through an atemporal filter, examining how the past's different musical ideas are not very different at all. Feedback doesn't necessarily happen in neat, defined loops, but sometimes in subconscious refrain. "Like, you take dance music from the '60s and R&B hits--they aren't so dissimilar from Miami bass from the '90s," Darlington says from his home in Santa Monica, Calif. "You just have to cross your eyes long enough, and it starts to blur together. In some cases you just have to craft things so that they're communicating together."

Love to Make Music To's willful surface discordance--in effect right off the bat as whimsical handclapping grin "Fair Weather Friends" jumps to the low-end growls and snarky, bad-by-design rhymes of Paperboy and Taz Arnold on "Touchstone"--makes it one of those records not particularly suited for blogability and rapid digestion. ("If you're downloading, how often do you really get past song number four?" Darlington asks.)

Love is ostensibly a concept album. The concept isn't particularly necessary to understanding the record, but it does go at least a little ways toward explaining or excusing its skittishness. (The benzo-drip glitch interlude of "I Car(ry) Us," circa his considerably more homogenous 2002 Invention, mires the middle of the record the more you actually listen to it.) It is Darlington' tribute album to early-'90s rave music. It's not a particularly obvious mock-up--a sizable percentage of the disc features rapping and glitch and doesn't jive that well with heavy doses of drugs.

"I'm trying to take rave to a place that maybe it was at times," he says. "I'm really trying to make a romantic viewpoint toward the whole thing, really not focusing on the drugs or the limitless use of high-pitched vocals and cheesy string arrangements, and focus on the things that made it poignant and beautiful, at least to me.

"[What] I really loved about the original kind of rave sound is that they didn't really edit from what they sampled," Darlington continues. "There was a lot of crazy music mishmash from music from all eras."

The mash-up is one of the grand high clichés of the late aughts--tag it as creative exhaustion or postmodern triumph, but it's there--and Darlington has an interesting and refreshing angle on it. Ditching nostalgia, he's trading in obscurities and ideas, not loaded historical icons. Why not bridge waves of congested, grime-y synths with a generic--as in, sound-bite stock--guitar refrain? It works. (Though the track, "Hrs:Mins:Secs," works more for its bass-heavy, anxious, and totally unresolved build and disorienting titular vocal clips.)

The rave track Darlington references stylewise is Acen's "Trip to the Moon Pt. 1," which might sound to undrugged ears like a disorienting-in-a-bad-way clusterfuck of beats, ambiance, and string-section cheese. "It's not exactly the kind of hyperkinetic mash-up music we have nowadays 'cause it's still focused on sounds that maybe you haven't heard before," he says. "It isn't this crazy familiarity where every song twist and turn is like, I've heard that somewhere before, like in an elevator or a bad rap video or something. [The music referenced] was really unknown, but the clichés and emotions were really kind of tip of the tongue. That's kind of what I'm trying to mine for."

Over the course of five albums, Darlington has danced on the line of outright cheesiness. The flutes and woodwinds sampled so gratuitously on Invention might have sunk the record in less deft hands, as the sampling work on Love might have been more brash. (And brash is so often misread as clever or "bricolage" by folks who think Girl Talk is more "radical" than fun, and that DJ Spooky makes mixes that transcend just sounding kinda cool.)

While not cheesy, Darlington is at his best at his most whimsical. "Fair Weather Friends," from the fall 2007 EP of the same name, kills; a full summer later, its handclaps and goofy found-sound clip--a female speaker breezily saying, "You know, we've got the same things on our minds as you boys do"--are so simple and satisfying it's found itself on repeat on probably every iPod its three short minutes have so far graced. Indie-rock dude Michael Johnson (Holopaw) finds himself in a lounge croon on "Make It So," over a chintzy horn and big workout-class hip-hop beats. Glitch mutant R&B cuts "My Beau" and "You're the One" are just what you might imagine.

The music on Love teeters but doesn't fall precisely because it doesn't really know its teetering. It isn't overly clever because it doesn't feel to be too concerned with irony or hipness. (Even "Flute Loop" didn't make flute samples hip, and its one of Daedelus' sounds of choice.) It isn't groundbreaking because it's, well, homage.

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