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Dario and the Clear — Optic Nerve
(Bandcamp no#, 2021, DL)

Dario and the Clear — Reflective Touch
(Bandcamp no#, 2022, DL)

Dario and the Clear — Banquet of Noise
(Bandcamp no#, 2024, DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2024-06-22

Optic Nerve Cover artReflective Touch Cover artBanquet of Noise Cover art

Listening to Dario and the Clear, for a person well-versed in the history of progressive rock, is an exercise in confusion. Stylistically, Dario Saraceno and company operate in an area that’s not actually tied to any particular tradition. As an example, Optic Nerve (2021) starts with a track called “Deities in Splendor,” which kicks off with spacy keyboards and a cool guitar part that builds with pounding drums to an impressive climax in its first minute, but then suddenly veers into a cheesy cocktail jazz interlude with saxophones for another minute. Then we get an atmospheric section with a meditative guitar and something like a Mellotron choir along with a bowed double bass; that’s replaced by a chugging hard rock section with prominent organ, followed by a return to the jazzy sax part. I’m all for weird music, and I enjoy a lot of bands that indulge in multi-genre mashups, but I have to say this one doesn’t work for me. The next track is “Smile / Lies,” an energetic rocker that does work. I’d call it Art Rock rather than prog, but that’s neither here nor there. For some reason it reminds me of Jane’s Addiction, with abrasive guitar tones and a hint of chaos in the arrangement. The PR material says that the album features Tony Levin, Jerry Marotta, and Trey Gunn, though none of them is mentioned on the Bandcamp page, which lists only Saraceno (guitar, vocals), Eric Dalton (drum programming), Robert Kopec (electric and upright bass), and Adam Siegel (alto sax). As someone who pays attention to credits and wants to give credit where it’s due, I am very annoyed by artists and labels who sell music online without including this kind of information. If you’ve got musicians of the caliber of Tony Levin or the others on your album, you want people to know it. The album proceeds with similar mixed results; “Sustained and Distorted” and “Tattooed Prophet” are good songs, but there are others I find unappealing. Saraceno is a good guitarist, well versed in rock idioms and with the ability to venture outside them at times. I’ve read some reviews that mention a similarity to King Crimson, but I don’t hear anything that gives me that impression.

The next Dario and the Clear album, Reflective Touch, came out in 2022, with Dalton returning, credited this time with drums. Dario plays electric guitar, Classical guitar, and “freatless” Classical guitar; Nat Kerr fills in the rest with keyboards, bass, and drum programming. Once again, the promotional materials mention other musicians not credited on the Bandcamp page: Rick Witkowski (Crack the Sky), Gabriel Marin, and Tony DePaolo. On the whole, this album is a stronger set of songs, and when they veer from one kind of sound to another manage to maintain better coherence. “Joe’s Surf” is a great instrumental, and one of the highlights is “Heavy Merge,” with a gnarly Chapman Stick bass part (played by Saraceno, I think) and some nice acoustic string parts (Marin, probably). In all, it’s a solid album.

This brings us up to the latest release, Banquet of Noise. The Bandcamp credits are more detailed this time out: Trey Gunn and Jason Blake (Warr guitar on one track each); Tony DePaolo (lead guitar on one track); Sue Leonard and Natasha Coward (vocals on one track each); Gabriel Marin (guitar and fretless guitar on one track); and Eric Person (saxophone). (I hate to harp on it, but even with more details in the credits, they’re obviously incomplete — there are female vocals on tracks where none are listed, so I wonder what else is wrong.) The quality of the music once again steps up a level, and there are no tracks I prefer to skip on Banquet of Noise. In addition, the production sounds fuller and more balanced. In a world where so many artists sound alike, Dario and the Clear has a sound all their own, constantly defying expectations. There’s a lot to be said for music that keeps you on your toes, zigging when you expect a zag and veering into another section when you expect a chorus.

Filed under: New releases, 2021 releases, 2022 releases, 2024 releases

Related artist(s): Tony Levin, Jerry Marotta, Trey Gunn, Dario and the Clear

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