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.