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Darkstar “News From Nowhere” – Album Review

Warp (2013)

Not to be confused with the second-rate indie-rockers of the late 90s, London trio Darkstar were hailed as future-garage’s great big hope when they arrived on the UK bass scene, only to confuse everyone when their debut album, North, turned out to be anything but a dancefloor affair.

Now having switched from the Hyperdub label to Warp Records, James Young, Aiden Whalley and James Buttery have gone even further leftfield with their follow-up, News From Nowhere, with a series of trippy and ambient soundscapes that could be described as the missing link between Brian Eno and Animal Collective.

Inevitably, an air of self-indulgence creeps in, particularly when the West Yorkshire trio entirely ditch the beats they’re renowned for on the meandering closer “Hold Me Down” and the ghostly chillwave of the enigmatically-titled “-.”

But when Darkstar stop stroking their chins, News From Nowhere can be a beautifully captivating listen. “A Day’s Pay For A Day’s Work” almost justified the record’s existence on its own, as it intersperses Kid A era-Radiohead melancholy with the bittersweet sun-soaked harmonies of The Beach Boys.

Elsewhere, there’s a welcome sense of playfulness on “Amplified Ease” which sounds like it was recorded by a long-lost psychedelic outfit at a rail station with its shuffling train-track rhythms and platform bells, and the childlike melodies of the analog prog of “Young Hearts.”

Whilst noted as a major influence on the entire record, the mantra vocals of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” are echoed best on the celestial lullaby of “Timeaway” and the sci-fi-tinged “You Don’t Need A Weatherman,” the latter of which also has vague leanings towards The Beatles’ acid period.

Venturing into everything from shimmering folktronica to ghostly R&B to Talking Heads-esque art-rock, Darkstar run the risk of being a jack of all trades but a master of none. But while News From Nowhere is occasionally too clever for its own good, the band’s ability to shift the goalposts remains largely impressive.

 

3 / 5 stars     

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About the Author

on MUSIC IS MY OXYGEN WEEKLY.

Jon O'Brien's love of music began as a six-year-old after becoming bizarrely transfixed with the 80s poodle rock of Heart, Europe and Def Leppard. Switching his attention to pop icon Michael Jackson, he then became addicted to the UK Top 40, becoming a rather pointless walking Wikipedia of chart positions in the process. Driving his poor neighbors up the wall while learning to play the drums as a teen, he toyed with the idea of becoming a musician, but in studying Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, he realized heÕd rather write about music than perform it. Since then, he's written thousands of reviews and biographies on everything from bubblegum pop to death metal, but electronica remains his main passion, with everything from Aphex Twin to Zero 7 in his spare room-consuming record collection. Jon resides in northwest England near Liverpool.

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