Restored 07June2017, originally published 27July2014
“I think everyone has a bit of a fascination with the dark side.”
Or so Mr. Romero would have us believe. I’m referring to Ariel Romero, the Argentinian mastermind behind the music machine that is Darkside. You might remember I mentioned him last year after he released the exquisitely dark Buenos Aires Dreams EP.
I’m inclined to agree with that sentiment, especially when the dark side features solid downtempo beats, turntablism, and a cornucopia of jazz instruments. Darkside’s latest release, Unknown Sequence, contains all this and more. The opener, “Intro (Darkside Main Theme)”, features a haunting violin and piano combined with shadowy samples, a heavy, blunted beat, with pinches of digitalism and turntablism. A plodding upright bass trudges deeply throughout the track. Cymbals are tapped skillfully and in perfect time to complement the bass. In the second half of the track, we’re treated with a trumpet. It soars. It wails. It infuses the track with raw emotion and suggests there’s more to be heard in this album than black beats and somber melodies (as fine and fair as they may be).
What I enjoy so much about this album is Mr. Romero’s insistence on emphasizing various instruments and musical sounds. For example, the second track, “Pleurex Mes Yeux” (French for “My Eyes Cry”) is a hip-hop rendition of a song from the opera Le Cid. I’m not the biggest opera fan, but hearing it incorporated into another genre of music is fresh to my ears. The operatic elements, including a heaping helping of clarinet and soprano vocals, lend an air of gravity and drama to the track without sacrificing the chilled, head-bobbing nature of hip-hop.
Perhaps the most moving track in the album is “Trumphession” (a portmanteau of “trumpet” and “confession”). A slow bass and beautiful violins set the scene for an exchange of musical emotion between what sounds like a trombone and a trumpet (and a saxophone, but only briefly). The trombone speaks first. Its deepest, darkest secrets unwind before the trumpet. The trumpet, surprised at first, emits a few muted howls before pausing to collect itself. The trombone, as if to console the trumpet, begins anew. But the trumpet can’t believe what it’s hearing. It talks about how beautiful things once were, recounting the past in the form of a brief saxophone solo. The two go back and forth a while before they tire and leave the beat to move the story along. The last few notes belong to the trombone, perhaps saying “I’m sorry” and bidding a final fare well.
The rest of the album is full of cool tracks playing up one instrument or another while sustaining the mellow vibe with fresh beats. “Velours Rouge (Avec Carine Huron)” and “While Gently Weeps” (yes, that’s a Beatles remix) push the guitar. “Jazzalucination (feat. JCreate)” and “Bronze Retail” showcase the trumpet and some of Mr. Romero’s skills on the turntable deck. “Unknown Sequence” throws in a flute.
The bottom line is that there’s little not to like on this album. It has everything: brass, beats, woodwinds, samples, strings, turntables, mood, consistency. The only way I could see this album getting better is if Mr. Romero makes another just like it.
Darkside – “Intro (Darkside Main Theme)”
Darkside – “Trumphession”