Darkstar Finds Soul in Experimental Crescendo
Nightly REM music originally reviewed on Pop ‘stache, listen and read below:
It is often in our nature to compare as a means of understanding. We explain something by identifying things that are most similar, and the specific ways in which they are neighbors. In the case of music, for example: How does Santigold’s newest album compare to MIA’s catalogue of music? Who does Beach House sound like more- Mazzy Star or The xx?
What if instead we started from scratch as writers and eliminated these comparisons for the sake of an artist who strives from the drawing board to be who he/she is- nobody else. And although the “similar artists” topic is almost ingrained in the act of writing for a large audience, England’s relatively new musical trio Darkstar motivates the elimination of artist comparisons in music journalism. I could say that Darkstar carries traces of The Flaming Lips, Sigur Ros, CANT and Animal Collective, but that statement would do injustice to their creative intentions, and is to some degree a lazy method of describing music. The truth is there is absolutely nothing like the music enclosed in News From Nowhere, the group’s latest and most unique sound adventure.
Hailing from Northern England, founding members James Young and Aiden Whalley began their signed careers first with their own label 2010 then with the UK dubstep label Hyperdub (Kode9, Burial, Zomby). There they released their first LP North (2010), a darker and more introspective sound than what’s inside 2013’s News From Nowhere (Warp). Darkstar now has a third member and vocalist James Buttery. Opening track “Light Body Clock Starter” introduces us to the album with a ghostly and incessant reverb- one that immediately drives us to an emotional moment, before abruptly cutting to silence. With that they begin an all-star lineup of tracks, ranging in style from spacey variations on pop to subtle electronic jams- all of which leave listeners in slight melancholy and wonder.
Darkstar sounds like an electrohead who’s found his niche, having grown up and into his thoughts on music. It contains all the elements of an experimental genre: playing with synths and sounds, creating warps and repetitions, mixing melodies and effects in ways that we don’t recognize. Though through all these innovative tactics, they manage to create harmonious, calming arrangements. The vocals and strings in “Hold Me Down” take turns in motion, weaving together the oscillating waves of synth and reverb bubbles. Darkstar builds an atmosphere like none other. “You Don’t Need a Weatherman” is the best track on the album, and it is because of a perfect combination of these otherwise independently praised qualities: major-key melodies, chaotic but well-timed beats, intense crescendos and atmospheric intrigue. Cycling chimes and abstract folly carry over into the ominous but never sullen “Amplified Ease.” The group then simplifies for the 1950′s prompop-esque “A Day’s Pay For a Day’s Work,” and their variety and potential have officially presented themselves.
Original members Young and Whalley both studied audio post-production in the mid 2000′s, which explains the exploratory but never lost nature of their music. Science fiction film sound design influenced much of their first album, whereas this release seems to enjoy the company of chords and vocals a bit more. For a trip back to Darkstar’s glitch and computer effects sound, check out their first single “Aidy’s Girl is A Computer” and their haunting cover of Radiohead’s “Videotape.” News From Nowhere makes its official release on February 5th.
Darkstar – News From Nowhere tracklist:
- “Light Body Clock Starter”
- “A Day’s Pay For A Day’s Work”
- “Young Hearts”
- “Amplified Ease”
- “You Don’t Need A Weatherman”
- “Bed Music – North View”
- “Hold Me Down”