While Jean-Benoît Dunckel and his Air partner, Nicolas Godin, worked on Charlotte Gainsbourg's album 5:55 by day, at night he recorded his first solo album under the name Darkel (inspired by when he recorded it and the fact that his last name means "dark" in German). Darkel doesn't differ greatly from his work with Air -- it's got the same mix of epic synth passages and sexy, starry-eyed pop, and his wispy, almost androgynous voice would be unmistakable in almost any setting. Songs such as "Be My Friend," "Pearl," and especially "Bathroom Spirit" could have easily been Air B-sides; they've got all the mellow, sensual atmosphere of Dunckel's main project, but not quite as much impact as Air's best work. Fortunately, he spends more time breaking away from that sound than he does emulating it, and the quirkier, more whimsical, and personal tracks make up the heart of Darkel. The sharp-edged, new-wavey "Beautiful Woman" and playful "TV Destroy" are some of the most rock-oriented sounds to come from Dunckel, even if they're more witty than hard-hitting. At the opposite spectrum is the languid "Some Men," a beautiful, piano-based love song that rivals the quality of many Air tracks, but works even better in this more intimate context. Interestingly, even with lyrics like "We are in bed and that's the best place I know," the song comes off more romantic than Air's trademark sensuality does. "How Brave You Are" is another standout, a breakup song with one of Dunckel's most captivating melodies in recent memory. Darkel also goes in a direction that's far poppier than even Air's most immediate moments, with delightful results. "At the End of the Sky" is particularly wonderful: with its lilting, liquid guitars and vaguely psychedelic haze, it sounds like a cybernetically enhanced George Harrison song, and the way Dunckel sings "Oh darling" is utterly charming. "My Own Sun," meanwhile, makes full use of the pun in its title and manages to be silly and elegant at the same time. Sometimes Darkel seems in danger of floating away on its flights of fancy, suggesting that Godin gives some of Dunckel's more whimsical ideas some grounding when they work together as Air. Nevertheless, this is a lovely working holiday, full of songs as shimmery and delicate as bubbles, and their slightness doesn't make them any less enjoyable.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares