Alfred Darlington is a musical magpie, hoarding the shiniest elements of his contemporaries’ output, skipping from label to label, appropriating and assimilating sounds to spin cluttered nests of agreeable electronica. Despite his most obvious attempts to build himself a persona — a faintly Steampunk dress sense and well-trimmed set of chops, prominent use of the Monome — Daedelus lacks a sonic signature. At its worst, his work feels both stultifyingly basic and overstuffed. 2008’s Love To Make Music To wears at the listener like a tenacious little sibling with its cartoonish sense of romanticism and ‘fun,’ piling on tawdry samples with an inconceivable lack of guile.
While Darlington has yet to release a genuinely essential full-length, Bespoke channels the ecstatic burble of his voluminous back catalogue into a much less inelegant final product. The album, ostensibly inspired by Victorian clothiers, indeed feels fashionable, even if it’s more ‘young professionals’ than ‘Venice Biennale.’ That said, the game-show brass synths of “Suit Yourself” stick out like a Hawaiian shirt, and the bass wobble at the bottom of “Overwhelmed” died with Britney Spears’s “Hold It Against Me.” The latter track, however, finds redemption in Daedelus’s careful treatment of some weighty vocals by neo-soul lion Bilal.
In fact, it’s in his treatment of the seven guest singers on the album that Darlington seems to have taken lessons from Flying Lotus, on whose Brainfeeder label he released the Righteous Fists of Harmony EP last year. On “French Cuffs,” he subjects Baths to drums that skitter to the extent that they’re practically arrhythmic and rising washes of dissonant strings, building an unease uncharacteristic of his work. Young Dad (a.k.a. Amir Yaghmai) rides an even more complex buffeting of percussion, doubling and phasing in and out with himself on “One and Lonely.” These blurrier tracks suggest a grasp of freer structures that corresponds to his noted familiarity with jazz and make his less sophisticated work feel like even more of a waste.
Yet it’s hard not to imagine the majority of this record playing in a really trendy local coffee shop, which is not a slight so much as a logical reaction to the songbird smoothness of “Penny Loafers,” on which Bird And The Bee half Inara George skips and coos. To be a little more complimentary, Bespoke sounds like darkly magnolia-lined city streets, like late afternoon, like crisp hotel beds. Darlington may have tailored the album from existing sonic cloth, but at least this time the seams are a little more skillfully sewn.