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The Making of Darcy James Argue's "Infernal Machines"

Eric Benson By

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On "Redeye," the album's fourth track, Argue electronically loops an acoustic guitar line that repeats constantly as the music builds and shifts. "Some of the notes in the loop fit the chords," Argue says, "and some of them grind against them, but because it's been going on for the whole tune, there's a sense that the ear doesn't really notice it. It's a way of subtlety leading up to these pretty dissonant things that don't sound dissonant because you've kind of like massaged your way in and out of them." Argue may use pop techniques, but it doesn't make his music sound "poppy"—at least not in the pejorative sense. On "Redeye," the acoustic guitar loop makes the music richer, denser, more unexpected.

Argue's music balances complexity with accessibility. He crafts through-composed epics that build elaborate narratives over twelve minutes, and then talks about wanting his music "to feel good." His fluency in jazz, classical, and popular music has given him an intimidatingly vast harmonic and melodic vocabulary, but he says it's "all gravy on top of having a strong rhythmic foundation." As quirky and intellectual as Argue can be—the track titles on Infernal Machines are based on the CIA torture of the Canadian engineer Maher Arar ("Habeas Corpus"), Zeno's dichotomy paradox ("Zeno"), and the Fung Wah Chinatown Bus ("Transit")—he sees theory as far less important than groove. The music on Infernal Machines has such a jolting, visceral energy because it manages to sound at once joyously familiar and unsettlingly alien. Those common studio effects feel ever-so-slightly twisted; the music blasts along, but in odd meters; the dissonance builds gradually, without the jagged edges of Thelonious Monk or Cecil Taylor. The seductiveness of Argue's music is the seductiveness of the uncanny: the recognizable-yet-strange, the interplanetary dirigible, the coal-powered robot, the big band playing the music of an imagined future.

Photo Credits

Lindsay Beyerstein

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