The name "Darkel" may sound cooler than "Dunckel," but there is little darkness of note in the first solo album from Jean Benoit Dunckel (whose surname means "dark" in German), half of the French electronic duo Air. Since Air first arose during the electronic heyday that was 1998 with its classic Moon Safari, the group has continued to evolve, but it’s never been able to re-create the distinctness or listenability of that album. Perhaps, then, Dunckel went solo to return to those sounds he may not have spent enough time with. More pop-oriented than Air’s previous two studio albums (2001’s 10,000Hz Legend and 2004’s Talkie Walkie), Darkel’s self-titled debut comes closest to achieving the tasteful kitsch of Air’s debut.
Darkel, who sings with his effeminate voice on most of the ten tracks here, hits all the main points of life: relationships, religion, environmentalism, destroying your television. Sometimes clever ("We belong to the Earth does not belong to us"), sometimes strange ("The money is in your bunny/ That’s what the preacher wants/ Your father robbed the bank"), Dunckel and lyrical collaborator Euston Jones succeed at writing lyrics that often add to the music’s complexity.
Working with classic rock ‘n’ roll riffs in an electronic manner seems to be Darkel’s intent. The toe-tapping T. Rex-inspired "My Own Sun," with lyrics such as "I don’t need diamond rings to earn my angel rings," succeeds because its transformation is fresh. By mixing classic drumbeats with modern electronica and modern (albeit clichéd) topics, the album retains that freshness. The sweeping harmonies mixed with musique concrète from another planet are present just as on Air albums, but they are more traditional here. In fact, there is little to distinguish Darkel from an Air album besides the fact that the group has already seemed to surpass the sounds offered on this solo debut. What Darkel does offer is more of a good thing: songs that sound like the follow-up to Moon Safari, if Air weren’t so progressive.