Cop or Drop? Special Request reviews the singles
2010 – the year that Darkstar released their debut album, ‘North’ – was the post-Hyph Mngo year. It was the year that Mount Kimbie released ‘Crooks & Lovers’, and the year that three James Blake EPs entered many critic’s “best of” lists. This was the year of post-dubstep and future garage, basically, and to say that I was less than enamoured with it would be an understatement. At the time, I was starting to make my first tentative steps outside of the rigid four-to-the-floor structures of house and disco, and found a neat stepping stone in the bright, UK funky-inflected sounds of Deadboy, Roska and early Night Slugs releases, club music that straddled the line between house, dubstep and grime. I felt the artists labelled as post-dubstep to be too polite, too monochrome and too moody, and having heard Darkstar’s 2-stepper Aidy’s Girl’s A Computer on a forum recommendation, I’d lumped them under this umbrella and written them off.
Needless to say, this was an unnecessarily stubborn, narrow-minded attitude to take towards a genre – especially a genre that I’ve since come to appreciate. Had I actually listened to ‘North’ in full then I’d have realised how mistaken I was. It may have shared a bleak, London-specific mood with these artists, and it may have had roots in sound system music, but it was basically a synth pop album above all else – and, listening to it retrospectively, a pretty great one at that.
On ‘News From Nowhere’, Darkstar have moved far away from austere soundscapes of ‘North’, and even further from the dubstep 12”s they released before this. This shift in style stems from a change in surroundings – the band chose to record the album not in their London home, but in a cottage in Yorkshire, and removing themselves from the city has been a breath of fresh air for the group both literally and metaphorically. ‘News From Nowhere’ feels totally alive, the influence of location audible in the music that they’re making. The lush meanderings of Armonica parade a free spirit that wouldn’t have been discovered in the oppressive city. The fast tempos, quirky percussion and melodic vocals of lead single Amplified Ease positively burst with colour. The loose rhythms, structure and instrumentation of You Don’t Need A Weatherman seem like a natural extension of the flora and fauna of the natural world. There’s still a sense of sadness in a lot of the music, but it doesn’t feel dark – it’s more of a nagging undercurrent than a dominating atmosphere.
Darkstar – Amplified Ease
Another factor affecting Darkstar’s stylistic transformation is producer Richard Formby, whose recent CV includes work with Egyptian Hip Hop and Wild Beasts. Formby, a veteran producer, seems to have acted as a guiding hand throughout, the forgotten analogue gadgets and gizmos in his studio utilised throughout the album. It’s an important point – as giddy and exciting as many of the songs on ‘News From Nowhere’ are, most of this is amplified by the idiosyncratic sounds being used on them. Formby’s studio also creates a real space on the album, an expansiveness of sound that was lacking in their laptop-y debut.
Darkstar – Timeaway
But what struck me most listening to ‘News From Nowhere’ is just how odd it is that I ever even considered Darkstar to be just some dubstep producers. They might have been at one point, but Darkstar today do not feel like electronic producers in the slightest. They’re an experimental indie band, more akin to Animal Collective and Warp labelmates Battles than the greyscale bass artists I once compared them to, and they’ve moved into this identity with complete ease.