Off by Heart
Melbourne artist Darren Sylvester returns with his second album Off by Heart, on Chapter Music. Renowned for his multidisciplinary practices in photography, sculpture, video, performance, and music, Sylvester applies a highly-polished, highly-referential aesthetic to everything he does. His musical practice began with videos of himself performing as David Bowie or Kate Bush, and progressed to re-building The Carpenters' Los Angeles garden for a 2009 exhibition. In 2012, he released his first book Compass Point, about the demise of the famous Bahamas recording studio, including archival photos supplied by Talking Heads' Chris Frantz. In this context-heavy context, Sylvester views Off by Heart as akin to Prince performing the songs of Jeff Lynne (two artists who, like Sylvester, also write and record alone). Sylvester plays every instrument on the album, and also offers up the melodrama of Suede's Bernard Butler, the histrionics of Billy Idol's guitarist Steve Stevens and the power ballad keyboards of Foreigner as musical departure points for his own investigations. A sparkling addition to the album is the vocal backup duo of Jojo Petrina and Biddy Connor (both of Magic Silver White). Lyrically, the album flits between the mistakes of love and the sharp realization of mortality, but presents both with a wink that acknowledges the undying fantasy world of the pop song. Sylvester's entry into the world of recording and live performance came in 2008, when he made his self-titled debut album as part of Optimism, an exhibition at Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art. Encouraged by friends, he played his first live show in Melbourne in 2008 with fellow first-timers Beaches. From there, the debut was given a wider release by the Unstable Ape label, and its lifespan culminated in a 2011 co-headline tour of America with James Cecil of Super Melody, who went on to produce Off by Heart at Super Melody World and Electric Dreams Studios. Off by Heart is a classically-produced rush of an album. Darren Sylvester may exist in a world bedazzled by slick '80s pop heroes, but his music is no shallow pastiche, and irony doesn't enter into it. In fact, Off by Heart is a deep, rich and dazzling album by an artist at the height of his powers.