If Alfred Darlington’s work as Daedelus over the last decade or so had been as consistent as his dress sense is elaborate (he often wears clothes straight out of the Victorian or early 20th century eras on stage), he may well be considered as influential as artists like DJ Shadow and Flying Lotus. Initially breaking out with 2002’s Invention, Daedelus’ music drew new lines between the early ‘00s cut-up hiphop of Prefuse 73 and DJ Shadow and late IDM, throwing in his own vintage samples for good measure. The ensuing years have produced a wealth of releases, though none have had quite the impact of his debut until now.
With Bespoke, however, Daedelus sounds revitalised. Released on the excellent Ninja Tune label, it’s an unsteady, inventive record crammed with guests. In fact, you could point to the thriving beat scene in LA as an influence on Bespoke’s eclectic voices – it certainly seems to reflect the atmosphere of creativity and collaboration that even those of us hundreds of miles away can recognise from the Low End Theory nights and Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label. While Daedelus certainly appears to have found kindred spirits in LA, it’s to his credit that Bespoke hangs together so well, and is consistently so thrilling.
As things accelerate into life from the off with ‘Tailor-Made’, featuring Canadian electronic musician Milosh, it becomes clear that while Daedelus is in a bit of crowd pleasing mood, he’s also as determined to cram all his ideas into his songs at the same time. So with ‘Tailor-Made’ you get an even more chopped up Avalanches via Flying Lotus, with hyper hiphop rhythms propelling the song’s melody forward. This falls into the instrumental ‘Sew, Darn, Mend’ – here, more classical melodies spill into one another as percussion rolls in the background, before giving in to a kind of IDM breakdown. You’ll either be swept along by the contant change ups and ‘more is more’ mentality, or overwhelmed.
For me, the moments when Daedelus throws everything into the mix is when he’s most exciting – on ‘Penny Loafers’, Inara George of The Bird and The Bee gets one of the record’s best melodies, holding everything together as Deadelus grafts together woozy melodies that sound like ghosts from a wartime radio and engine-like beats. It sounds like they’re constantly threatening to fall apart – you can almost hear the joins, the stitches, the clashing patterns. Similarly, on ‘What Can You Do?’, Busdriver bellows his way through a frantic percussive piece – it’s like R&B at top speed. Meanwhile, the furious drumming of Pete Curry of Los Straitjackets propels ‘Overwhelmed’, though somehow Daedelus makes room for wobbling synths and bass as well as the vocals of US soul singer Bilal.
In amongst the chaos, you’re still allowed opportunities to breathe, to some degree – ‘One and Lonely’ features the vocals of Young Dad and could almost be a plaintive indie ballad, if Daedelus wasn’t straying into breakbeat territory underneath. Meanwhile, the expansive ‘French Cuffs’ includes the heavily reverbed vocals of Will Wiesenfeld, aka Baths, someone who readily acknowledges Deadelus’ influence (and not just in terms of choice of facial hair) – its probably the most abstract and unsettling piece here, as voices overlap and a skittering rhythm rarely stays still underneath.
Even in its more reflective moments, however, Bespoke is constantly shifting, constantly layering genres, voices and instruments on top of each other that shouldn’t work, but, more often than not, do. It’s a little like encountering someone who’s wearing four outfits at once. And just as if you’re wearing four outfits at once – or dressed like a Victorian gentleman in LA for instance – you’re likely to stand out from the crowd, it’s also just as likely that no one’s going to be rushing to copy you anytime soon. If anything then, Bespoke confirms Daedelus as the unique artist he’s always been, drawing on sounds and genres few other people consider, even as he pulls an eclectic array of guests in from outside. As a whole, Bespoke is frantic, confusing, melodically rich, and disjointed, and suggests Daedelus has found a new lease of creative life.