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Kwesi Darko has never been concerned with making trend-baiting music or even with fitting in for that matter. Where recent dance and electronic releases are easily filling up festival tents, Darko focused on trying to make something unique and personal and with a longer shelf life in mind. His music regularly colours outside of conventional lines, but it isn't a matter of being wilfully obscure or intentionally difficult so much as it represents a sincere desire to express himself as honestly as possible.

His 2011 debut The Sunday Gift (whose stoned hip-hop beats, layers of hazy textures, and paranoid and brooding atmosphere drew comparisons to Tricky's Maxinquaye) could make for a slightly disorienting listen at times, but never at the expense of allowing in any degree of warmth or accessibility; it was the kind of stuff you could lose yourself in once you immersed yourself in its layers, particularly in the middle of the night. On his sophomore effort Darker Than Blue, he continues to colour outside of preconceived lines, pushing his music further out of the realm of trip-hop influence and into more stylistically diverse spaces. With the exception of 'Daydreaming' and 'Alone', the two songs that come closest to retaining the overall jazzy spaciness of The Sunday Gift, just about everything else here veers off into slightly different directions. 'My Heart' is surprisingly tranquil with its wordless chants, dewy piano and mournful strings that give it a near hymn-like quality; 'Home' is a blues song filtered through electronic music while the title-track is a caustic mix of rap, jazz and rock.

As brooding as The Sunday Gift could be, Darker Than Blue presents itself as an even more brooding experience and also as an unflinching personal statement from Darko, as he distills his personal experiences into an almost unsettling meditation on things like uncomfortable truths, love, loss, religion, faith and doubt to the point that he gradually begins to come unraveled. "I been getting lost in my thoughts/I'm losing my mind," he confesses on 'Alone'. It's not surprising then that the music spirals and takes on a darker tone as he plunges deeper into his own troubled psyche. 'Six Days' and 'Gravediggers' are the most anguished and tormented songs here, abandoning spacey and jazzy textures altogether in favour of searing guitars and blistering drums over which Darko sings in a voice that nearly sounds possessed.

It can be a little exhausting having to process so many conflicting and volatile emotions welling to the surface at once, but, like The Sunday Gift, Darker Than Blue isn't without its beauty either. Those moments can feel hard won though, especially considering all of the turmoil surrounding them. That being said, album closer 'You and Me' is the most rewarding of them all. "You and me/We are as one/It's you and me and no one else/You and me/This sail through the waves/It's you and me against the world" he sings amidst shimmering gospel organs, cinematic strings, and a sparse beat to someone who, regardless of the place they hold in his life, offers him a glimmer of hope in the midst of his own personal hell. Considering how bleak his outlook is throughout much of the album, his desire to connect with someone on such a deep and intimate level comes off so pure and sincere it's nearly heartbreaking, and it brings an otherwise dark and troubled album to a surprisingly uplifting end, proving that sometimes hopeless situations don't always have to remain hopeless.

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