Darkstar - News From Nowhere

It takes some courage to mention the word (let alone the music it encompasses) dubstep when talking about the influence and reasons behind your particular sound. While it may not relate to the source material and actual variety of instrumentation that appear on Darkstar's 2010 debut North, the context of a more grittier, earthly, industrial-lenient palette does still hold some tie with the band's line of thinking. But given that this is a three-piece aiming to take such a working-class British idealism, and move it beyond its simple cause-and-effect proficiency, you do have to take things with a pinch of salt, here especially, with a band looking to push a genre past its standardized subsidiary of just a mixer and a pair of laptops. North, in result, showed that British suburban electronics still had a soul, and wasn't doomed entirety to this corporate high-fiving slash head-in-hands lunacy of unfathomably over-the-top rhythms and sounds; all of which in the name of attention. In some way, despite my more personal preference, Darkstar are in the same field as James Blake in helping to uncover a more quieter, human side to dubstep's arhythmic, industrialized landscape, and that above all does require some credit...for both of them. So coming to Darkstar's follow-up News From Nowhere - their first for Warp - I'd like to think the three-piece can work around this and hopefully reinvent this post-modern scenery of apartment blocks, power plants and concrete, into one that demonstrates perhaps the presence of a rich and textured soul beneath all that obstruction.

Well if the band have gone about imagining a new look to this scene, it's certainly got its soulful essence to begin with. Opening track Light Body Clock Starter sees Darkstar take on more ambient soundscaping than their previous offering. Synths glitter and shine in the open air as opposed to beating rhythmically, and lead vocalist James Buttery's voice is rather angelic in its approach too. The electronics certainly do conjure a distant and withdrawn state of mind from what was a montonous reality of previous, and it's an intriguing start to an album destined for perhaps (literally) greater heights. But rather than completely soaking through and fading off into the distance, the track abrubtly stops and leads us into follower Timeaway which focuses more on rhythm in its shaking of percussion and light thumps of drums that lay low and fine-tuned in the backdrop. But the melody of the piece is what stands out most of all, and against Buttery's vocoder-filtered voice and the continual throb of bass beating from beneath us, there's a definite continuing of that same lofty distance from previous. But given that the track lasts just over three minutes, you do get the feeling these moments in the light are intentionally kept compact and controlled, as is the case with Darkstar's centralized focus on production.

With Armonica, we get more a vibe of the band's industrial-leaning tendencies in the track's grimy, oily slur of sound amid the shake of percussion and overhauled trawl of vocals that tend to stretch as far as remotely possible. But the band's focus on letting their synthetic orchestration seep into the music as opposed to letting it fly , does carry most of the track's weight here, and at times you do get the feeling that perhaps it does more in hindering the overall intensity of the piece as opposed to adding to it. Not that what they add to their already established mix of soul and beats doesn't lift them deservedly from out of the confines of the city suburbs, but at times I feel as if the band sway too far into obscurity that their original intentions often get lost amidst it. More apparent, I question whether there's any real value or resulting emotion that comes from off from these delves into abstraction of electronic sounds. A Day's Pay For A Day's Work gives us an insight more into the band's focus on soul in their palette, and I admire how simple and honest the rhythm is in this song. Even if there are still, perhaps, unneeded lingers of reverb and distortion in the track's bass layers and its overall clarity of production, I can see the admittance and honesty in Buttery's lenience in delivery and the way the piano drops so briskly amid the track.

Away from the element of soul, we get a slight Depeche Mode vibe from tracks like Young Heart's, which showcases Darkstar's elegant offering of synthesizers and its placement around Butterly's soft, melting vocals. The music itself is a lot less energetic and needed for movement, but its lack of such transporting to a higher plane gives the track this eery, insightful baroque-like honesty that comes across really well, and spells out the band in a far-more effective emotional manner. And it's Amplified Ease with its repetitive carriage of a monologue that tells a story, visualizing the music in far better a way than the band's previous efforts in blurred extroversion. 'Die all alone, valentine on my own/I'm just fine on my own/All the same on my own' Butterly lists like some care-free reminiscence of his current situation in life, and yet despite how dry and mellow his passage comes off in, the track's beating wallowing of bells and ushered bass actually heightens the music from this seemingly complacent safety and makes the music become a more texturized liquid state in its progression. And it's that non-solid physique to the music that actually pulls the listener in and, in its closing statement in a way, slowly blurs and obscures itself into what may be a larger fog of care-free normality that the band have played so well on.

Bad Music - North View could be seen - if the title is any suggestion - of the band's secretly-longing return to their previous efforts in its hushed, garage-like seclusion in electronic sounds. Even though the ambiance is presently dominant and driving of the music's toning, the rhythm of drum beats and the marriage of it with the accompanying bass and buzzing of tender vocals hiding in the backdrop does give a feeling of something more in line with the silent revolution currently undergoing in British electronica. And for that reason, both in its nostalgia for what came before, as well as a matching of the band's past and current ideas in music, it creates a more complete and solid structure in its encompassed sounds. For the closer, Hold Me Down, Darkstar revert to more long-winding slowly-unveiled rhythms of electronics. But this time, the clarity takes priority over the band's somewhat trivial use of distortion and distanced vocals. And even when such distortion builds up to its most dangerously overwhelming, there's still a sense of control and sequential flow to the music's upbeat, nurtured state. The production is a lot more controlled and managed, and because of it, the track's seven-minute output comes off in a beautifully orchestral sweep of light percussion and darkly-lit electronics that meet in quite the ideal middle-ground for the track to navigate through.

It's apparent the garage-meets-dubstep-meets-soul formula of their debut is in microscopically low supply on News From Nowhere, but in its place Darkstar have found a fresh and uplifting stasis of musical exploration for their conflicting moods to gel within. Ideally, their approaching of soundscapes falters where their melodic composites flourish, and there are signs that perhaps the band want both these fields to work, even if the former evidently lacks the same immediate attractiveness as the latter. Nevertheless, the drastic shift from cemented suburbs to glistening space is an interesting one; as if the band's sophomore is the spirit and soul to North's beaten and bruised physical body. And that soul and sense of spirited journeying comes through in interesting passages of colour and tone. And even if the texture of this music remains the same for the most part, it doesn't distract from Butterly's wave of honest narration that comes through to great results in the second half of this record. This certainly won't be the kind of music any DJ will be shifting and fuzing amid their mixers and laptop set-ups, but it's without question a new take on we Brits and our hushed conservativeness, and musically, a new-found discovery of electronic music's less-extruded soulful and emotive potential.


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Discovery: Darkstar - News From Nowhere
Darkstar - News From Nowhere
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