London's Kwes Darko is a bit of an outsider: you don't see his name on very many party flyers, and his uniquely hazy hip-hop is likely to find more luck with stoners than dancers. He admits he's less interested in making "beats" than the artists he's often associated with. His early work garnered him comparisons to Flying Lotus, but with each passing release Blue Daisy has wrapped up his music in further layers of occluded smoke, and gone are the recognizably hip-hop structures in favour of rhythms that wander in unexpected directions. Darko's floaty tracks often have a formless meandering quality that left his EPs sometimes feeling too airy for their own good, making the album format an ideal home to stretch out.
And stretch out he does: Sunday Gift is one long expanse, an uninterrupted storm cloud of obscured percussion, vocals wafting like heat lines and scorched earth guitar blanketing the horizon. The album is structured as a set of somewhat concrete tracks buffered by interludes, each "song" emerging from the sandstorm dust beaten and weathered. If you heard Blue Daisy's last single "Raindrops," you know what to expect: vocals that flicker and fade and melodic elements that flutter across the soundscape like bits of ribbon. These songs rarely feel complete, instead receding back into the chaos of drones and static after several minutes. It's hard to tell sometimes whether this music is meant to be alluring or menacing.
The burned-out paranoia of the album renders it more of a psych-rock record than anything else. When the searing guitar meshes with crashing breaks ("Shadow Assassins") the result is like a cross of Nine Inch Nails and The Stooges. The death march of "Psyche Inquiry," with its ferocious rap from Hey!Zeus, riffs off vintage Bomb Squad productions, while vocal spots from familiar collaborator Anneka (gorgeous opener "Firewall") and Cinematic Orchestra's Heidi Vogel recall the impenetrable weed haze of prime '90s UK trip-hop.
The album's decidedly non-linear development is finally halted by penultimate track "Spinning Channels," which stumbles into a pummeling house beat that feels like the sun violently cutting through the wall of burning sand. With his remix of "Raindrops," John Talabot showed how much structured beats could add to Darko's music, and this is his own go at it: That it's the best moment on the entire record says something about maybe where he could go next. But he's not a dance producer, and Sunday Gift isn't a dance album: it's more of a shamanic journey through extreme climates with occasional stops at a revitalizing oasis or two. As with any harsh and unforgiving journey, your mileage may vary.
Tracklist 01. Distance
03. Fallin Prelude
06. Shadow Assassins
07. Psyche Inquiry
10. Only for You
11. Spinning Channels
12. The End