Sasha Darko






An album like Sasha Darko’s Underwater comes as no surprise. The game designer and sound artist from Chelyabinsk, Russia has self-released an aquatic seven-track journey through the ocean in July 2013 which can be purchased and fully streamed at Bandcamp. The competition is huge in this market, and while I talk in greater detail about this later, it remains one of the most obvious ideas for any Ambient musician to venture to the coastline for field recordings and then, while you're already there, into the sea, at least figuratively so. I do not even know a fraction of all ocean-themed records, let alone have I reviewed them, but works like Thom Brennan’s Vibrant Water (2001) and Jonson’s Mindlook (2008) are really just the tips of the melting iceberg. So much is clear: Sasha Darko’s Underwater faces literal waves of competitors and could be swept away as a possible result. I for one was very surprised after my initial contact with the game designer’s work. It becomes clear that he also creates music for video games and their mobile incarnations. While Underwater is no hyper-hectic Japanese gallimaufry of dizzy ditties, its textural wideness is eye-opening, the synths are glowing from within and do not need long to seek the desultory listener’s attention. Despite its darker undertones and bass drones – both of them mandatory must-have integrations in aquatic albums –, Sasha Darko’s album is unexpectedly colorful and even benign. The implied story of Polynesian boats and alien spaceships that sunk to the ground is admittedly dazzling and gimmicky, but Underwater does two things perfectly right in the given story-related circumstances: it is firstly no real concept album. If one does not know about the five to six lines of the backstory, one will never notice. This has secondly to do with the complete omission of stereotyped samples. The journey has been undertaken plenty of times, but there is more than enough room for Sasha Darko’s luring interpretation.


The first track is merely an introductory phase and could potentially scare the casual listener away right from the get-go, for Sleeping Underwater Giants sounds disturbingly retrogressive and figuratively moss-grown. Here, Sasha Darko belittles his own effort, and this perception is largely nurtured and fueled by the admittedly cherubic, but otherwise antediluvian synth choir billows. If this was a track off Zoë Blade’s analogically themed Hello Calm (2010), I even would not have raised a brow. Once the listener overcomes the curiously chintzy iridescence of the synth’s texture base, he or she might as well enjoy the angelic aura. No aquatic bubbles, no reverberation suggests a deep underwater escapade. The reason is solely thematic, for it is an obvious characteristic of similarly moist albums to unfold their depth and abysmal layers gradually, when the listening being submerges deeper into the respective ocean. For me, Sleeping Underwater Giants is a misstep texture-wise, but its intertwinement of sylphlike helixes and aquiver flumes is captivating. It may seemingly stem from the 70’s, but this could be another nod to the main theme of the water world’s past, present and future. Sasha Darko moves forward chronologically, and so the most old-fashioned emanation spawns from the opener. Following up is the Seagulls Song, an ever-bubbling, ebulliently bustling synth hymn of duality: aeriform proportions and aqueous vesicles mesh in this lofty panorama. Processed alto flutes merge with fireworks-like sine tones, additional aural pyrotechnics, seagull-simulating whistles and, most importantly, an insouciance that is wondrously delightful. The oscillating undulation beneath the whistles, the pointillistic unison of flapped wings and corrugated fizzles is, at the end of the day, equipollent to the retro rhizomes of Sleeping Underwater Giants, but much more lively, uplifting and captivating. A beautiful little critter.


1500 Metres Below is the next destination, and it is here where the lure of the ocean is fully enforced by the Russian producer from Chelyabinsk. This is wonderful Drone track with polymorphous phases and a focus on melodious intersections. First and foremost, the large dose of reverberation is noticeable, augmenting – even amplifying – the superb Rave-like synth patterns whose afterglow is at least as delicate and excitingly spectral as the multilayered bursts themselves. A two-note loop reminds of a submarine scheme, whereas the Rave globs change their physiognomy from soothing over melodramatic to acroamatic. And once a respective phase has come to an end, it is connected to the next one via a large cusp that allows the listening subject to feast on the vaulted cavities. One last Rave-related simile should be suitable: as dichotomously enigmatic a good early Detroit-y 90’s anthem can be, 1500 Metres Below is equally keen to withdraw the prerogative of interpretation. It is ghostly, apocryphal and transcendental at once, or in short: a corker! The next tune Sunken Submarine then could be described as the most progressive piece, launching from point A with its sun-dappled dark matter pads and metallic-brazen synth shrapnel over point B with eerie guitar strings and piercing-ponderously streams to point C, the denial of all gunmetal ingredients, only relying on thin drones of shadiness. This is one of the compositions where it becomes clear that Sasha Darko is involved in the gaming industry. The shortness of the vignette boosts the impetus of the textural pool.


The last three tracks are particularly intriguing, for the wideness and intrinsic vastness of the surfaces and patterns incessantly increase. Not one shadow of the fogyish, outmoded opener is in sight. The opposite is the case, as everything gleams and shimmers in front of a particularly dark backdrop. The Abandoned Machines features heavily processed guitar twangs and synth gyrations which have to be heard to be believed. They sound lacunar and fissured, their interstitial structures are filled with turquoise-tinged and golden-colored complexions. Most impressive, though, is the wave-like nature of these gargantuan shards that is realized via pitch-shifting. And indeed, once these glistening apparitions reach the darkest of all tones, the bass placentas and demonic synth tones in minor take the aghast listener to a beastly world. The song lightens up during its end, but this is of no importance, for the shock waves which these slowly downwards-cascading spirals create are metaphorically paralyzing. Shock-and-awe meet cloak-and-dagger for a coup de main. Afterwards, The Reflections Of Seagull Echoes throws the listener immediately and without further warning into a crystalline elysium of wraithlike rapture. Chirping seagull sine tones, lilac-mauve-magenta-tinted synth erections, jagged prongs of wonder as well as wonderfully elasticized sizzles and wonkily wobbling walls transform the headroom into a cherubic cavern of light and miracles. The marvel-like structure is the biggest success of Sasha Darko. Everything glints, floats and whooshes past the serpentine channels. Bedazzling to the max. The final The Sirens Serenade is the threnodic-melancholic outro that does not seem to fit well with the cavalcade of colors that epitomize the album’s main body. This is the most piercing-incisive tune whose eponymous ladies are transferred into music via sharp sine tones that evoke crestfallen claustrophobia, languorous lure and daedal dread at the same time. I get that this piece encapsulates the ferocious future of the vast ocean, and still, the uneasy-alkaline revelation is – what a fitting conclusion – hard to swallow.


So many aquatic Ambient albums have seen the light of day, and whether it is due to the New Age scheme and its four elements that harken back to tribal revelations or the oft-cited fact that life began in the ocean, Sasha Darko’s seven-track journey called Underwater is no mere addendum. It does not offer anything new or something that is completely out of this world, but the synth textures are terrifically soothing, polydimensional and moist. Luckily enough, Underwater does not draw from the same source of patterns or samples, but sees these structures rearranged with an added depth. To give one example: the lively effervescence of Seagulls Song is pieced together in a similar but ultimately versatile way in The Reflections Of Seagull Echoes which hence does not feel like a muddy revival of a good idea, but continues to enchant with the seagull-like whistles, warbling flute tones and contingent flecks. Only the opener with its synth choirs is definitely decades too late to make an impression, but I think that its ancient structure serves the purpose of linking the past with the other timeframes that loom in the album; given the obvious talent of Sasha Darko in terms of tweaking and filtering frequencies, I am more than sure that this is the case. Speaking of the other timeframes: there is indeed an aura of technology-related buzzes. Sunken submarines drone like behemoths of steel, whereas pings, echoes and bass bubbles add wideness to the scenario. This has all been done before, and while you are reading these very lines, approximately one hundred people are working on a similarly themed work all over the earth, without knowing about each other. These tendencies should by no means belittle Sasha Darko’s Underwater which keeps the balance between change and alatoric drifts. It races the tide, fathoms out sunken cities and returns to the surface. A prelistening session is wholeheartedly recommended!



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Ambient Review 246: Sasha Darko – Underwater (2013). Originally published on Jul. 31, 2013 at