You can learn a decent amount about a band from their label; it doesn’t tell you everything, but depending on the label it can almost certainly be a guarantee that the artist is going to be worth listening to. All you need to do is look at the remarkable rise of Tri Angle Records with their small, yet impressive roster to appreciate that when a label know how to pick their artists wisely they are duly rewarded.
London trio, Darkstar released their debut album North on Hyperdub records, the dubstep label that was able to separate itself from the hype thanks to the likes of Burial, Laurel Halo and Zomby. For their sophomore effort, News From Nowhere, the band moved to legendary electronic label Warp, home to the likes of Aphex Twin, Flying Lotus and Battles. This move is pretty representative of the progression in Darkstar’s style, they’ve gone from a band with one eye on songcraft and one eye on the dancefloor to a band wholly dedicated to taking electronic music in a far more thought-provoking direction.
North was defined by its off-kilter approach to dark synthpop; the brittle synths played off the techno undercurrents to eerie effect. And yet there was still a semblance of pop, the vocals were high in the mix and the musical textures were if anything welcoming. On News From Nowhere that immediacy has been stripped and what has arrived in its place is far more atmospheric and guarded. News From Nowhere is more instrumentally minded and introduces a dark ambient element that makes the new material feel cavernous and dare I say it haunting.
News From Nowhere cascades from sombre, ambient pieces like opener ‘Light Body Clock Starter’ to more single-orientated songs like ‘Amplified Ease’. There is a common thread throughout of soft, stilted vocals woven with the delicate instrumentation. Musically Darkstar take a streamlined approach to songwriting, most songs revolve around a simple, yet strong melodic progression over primal, almost afrobeat rhythms. They borrow a page from Animal Collective and John Talabot’s book of taking a sample and looping it to dizzying effect, augmented by applying effect upon effect. Its extremely considered music that feels very intentional, its easy to get caught up in how crafted the music is and lose sight of the fact that Darkstar are at their best when toying with simplicity.
I’ve spoken a length of how the dark elements of News From Nowhere are what have the most immediate effect when listening, however, much like the separation in the songs between powerful melodies and visceral rhythms there is an even more distinct contrast between the sombre atmosphere and colourful synthesizers. It keeps the album from succumbing to the darkness and adds a liveliness that is most felt in vocalist James Buttery’s delivery – varying from looping mantras to intimate and understated moments.
The move to Warp has proven fruitful for Darkstar, the refinement of their sound allows for the songs to feel streamlined and more thoughtfully composed. News From Nowhere witnesses Darkstar’s evolution as a band who are willing to adapt and push the boundaries of their music, while still maintaining the fundamental trademarks of their music.
…Ben is listening to Unknown Mortal Orchestra – ‘II’