A year in the countryside has done wonders for the Warp trio's sound and soul.
Darkstar aren’t scared of change. In fact, the northern trio actively seek it out. They’ve scrapped songs, records and new directions more than most have had hot dinners. When everyone wanted them to make an album’s worth of Aidy’s Girl-like tracks, for example, they instead delivered their dark and gleaming synth-pop opus ‘North’ on Hyperdub in 2010. Contrary, maybe, but also instinctive – led by their hearts. Darkstar aren’t ones to bow to braying; they’re on their own thing.
To that end they’ve spent the past year in the Yorkshire countryside working on their new album for new label Warp, and the air has clearly got to them: first single Timeaway is on a completely different plane. Gone are ‘North’s sad singing synths and thick sense of loss. In its place are the shoots of a radically new outlook, one that startles in its openness. Where ‘North’ was heavy, Timeaway dances on a breeze of its own making. “Feel the reaching / and start to entwine” sings James Buttery over layers of hopeful chimes and reed-like clicking percussion, like the turning of a water wheel.
Maybe it’s the dewiness of the production or that evocative imagery, but it makes me think of Van Morrison’s sweetest moment. Like Sweet Thing, it is rooted in the real world; not real as that charmless directness the internet has come to redefine it as, but the real that’s found in snatched lunch breaks on park benches, when the smell of the city is overwritten by the crunch and decay of autumn leaves. There’s a fertile sweetness to it, like freshly turned soil or the feeling of wet grass between bare toes.
“It kind of happened naturally with this space and the countryside and all that,” Aiden told me when I visited them in the studio with producer Richard Formby a couple of months back (full interview here). That space has had a huge impact, not just on the tone of Timeaway but on its sense of time. It’s so much freer, so much more fluid, than anything they’ve ever written before. Moving away from London’s pressure bubble, taking literal time away, seems to have freed them from any former fixed notions. They’ve let go and you can feel it.