Darren Sylvester - Off By Heart

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From the opening notes of Darren Sylvester's slick, '80s-influenced second album, Off by Heart, it's hard to tell the difference between affected irony and complete dedication to style. The album is so totally immersed in that decade's high-gloss world of pastel-jacketed adult pop that it almost feels designed rather than created. But that's not necessarily a criticism. With only one other album under his belt (2009's Darren Sylvester), Sylvester is largely known as a well-respected visual artist and there is a studied way in which he approaches his music that adds a weird emotional depth to what might otherwise be considered a kind of tribute album. It's not that it doesn't have heart, it's just that the heart isn't where you expect it to be. It's not in the lyrics (which are well-written) or the message (is there one?), but in Sylvester's complete dedication to a specific style, era, and production value. It's his love letter to the decade of smooth synths, mellow guitars, and neon nights. When approached this way, Off by Heart becomes a very personal album. Maintaining complete control, Sylvester played every instrument on the album using just two outside musicians, Biddy Connor and Jojo Petrina (of Magic Silver White), on backing vocals.

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