Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Album Review: Darkstar - News From Nowhere

News From Nowhere
Rating: Grrrr

I've stopped trying to figure out what UK electronic trio Darkstar are going to do next, as there is absolutely no way to determine it. Starting out on the Hyperdub label, the original duo of James Young and Aiden Whalley made waves with the brilliant track "Aidy's Girl's A Computer" that pointed them in the direction of UK grime/two step/dubstep. With their debut album North, the duo added a third member, vocalist James Buttery, and moved into dark synth pop territory. With tracks like their cover of the Human League track "(You Remind Me Of) Gold," they kept their coolly sensuous sound but added a human touch to their aesthetic. It was a challenging listen and showed the band's depth of talent. I was basically expecting more along the lines of North when word hit the street that their follow up was imminent. Confounding expectations, Darkstar has once again slid into new territory. New From Nowhere is 10 tracks that flow together seamlessly as one. While there are a few "singles" sprinkled in the mix, for the most part the music acts as a complete work. Drawing from more impressionistic acts like Animal Collective, James Blake, and Oneohetrix Point Never, these liquidy tracks bubble and shimmer and glow with a delicate light. Immersing yourself in this netherworld takes some time and effort, but once you allow it access to your mind and heart, it becomes one of the most gorgeous records you will hear all year.

From the opening drift of chiming, repetitive keyboard patterns and sleep vocals of "Light Body Clock Starter" you know you are in a different world and mindset. That it so easily segues into first single "Timeaway" is a testament to the band's tight production skill. Over clapping percussion, hypnotic keyboard structures, and heavily processed vocals, "Timeaway" is a densely packed track that keeps everything together with a master's touch.

This deft touch is echoed in the other more "pop" tracks on the record. 'A Day's Work For A Day's Pay" recalls their more tender and elegant moments on North, featuring a sad, haunted vocal from Buttery over the lonely echoes of piano and clattering percussion,

"Amplified Ease" easily draws comparison to Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion with its lurching rhythms, mantra-like vocals, and pointillistic garden of keyboards,

oddball track "Armonica" combines with surprisingly dexterous hands fractured vocals, skittering percussion, and heavily treated keyboards, while "Young Heart's" borrows from their earlier work, crafting a lush vision of doomed synths, whispered vocals, and trance-inducing percussion.

The remaining tracks on News From Nowhere create an oblique tableau of shimmering, hypnotic ambient pleasures. It all leads perfectly towards closing track "Hold Me Down" which moves over a buzzing pack of firefly synths, endlessly looped and re-looped over each other, snatches of vocals blurring in and out of the mix, releasing you from thought and care. It is an assured follow up to North, taking the band into new territory without forsaking their core sound. While there is no standout track like "Gold" to carry the weight of things, as a whole, News From Nowhere is a far more cohesive statement and sets the bar high for their future work.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

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