Album Review: Darkstar – North (Hyperdub)

Album Review: Darkstar - North (Hyperdub)


Now with added moodiness, it's ta-ra dubstep, and ayup '80s trans-Pennine synths

The north of England, with its coal dust-stained mythologies, has a legacy of producing pop forged from mechanical parts. [a]OMD[/a], [a]The Human League[/a], [b]John Foxx[/b]: all answered their industrial geography with synthesized music; grey skies equal cold synths. A cliché maybe, but like how music documentaries will always show a shot of an autobahn to the strains of [a]Kraftwerk[/a], one based in truth.

There are times when [b]James Young[/b] and [b]Aiden Whalley[/b] look like they’re aligning [a]Darkstar[/a] with such a tradition in a bid to escape the London scene which nurtured them. Their first single is a refashioning of [a]The Human League[/a]’s ‘[b]You Remind Me Of Gold[/b]’ from the ‘[b]Mirror Man[/b]’ EP into the stooping ‘[b]Gold[/b]’; ‘[b]Under One Roof[/b]’’s wheezing, bleakly ambient opening feels like it’s stripped out of [a]OMD[/a]’s ‘[b]Organisation[/b]’; they’ve called their album ‘[b]North[/b]’. Y’know, that kind of thing.

Of the 10 tracks here, just one retains the south London syncopations of the Hyperdub 12”s for which they’re known – their hit ‘[b]Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer[/b]’. Universally loved a year ago, its fine-grained garage melancholia sits uneasily next to the brooding, introverted pop of [b]Darkstar[/b] version 2.0, an outfit who’ve swapped making bangers to lose yourself to for making a record to lose yourself in. The titular track is the album’s distillation, with industrial snare rolls which recall [a]Portishead[/a]’s ‘[b]Machine Gun[/b]’ paired with billowing, fibrous pads given to ripping at any moment.

“[i]When it’s late there’s only you[/i]”, sings James Buttery, summing up ‘[b]North[/b]’’s half-lit angst. Sometimes the bleak textures work their way into your head like a dull ache; it’s particularly acute on ‘[b]Ostkruez[/b]’, with a lingering mood balanced on ambient piano chords that mutate into porous minor key synths, like a Vangelis soundtrack shackled to a tragic reality.

Of course, whether you like this new, claustrophobic [b]Darkstar[/b] is entirely dependent on how you felt about their remix of ‘[b]Videotape[/b]’ in 2009 – ‘[b]Deadness[/b]’’s skulking minimalism descends into picked guitar strings straight out of [a]The xx[/a] school of emotional potency, its cut-up vocals entrenched within the rimshot percussion creating the kind of antsy landscape that Thom Yorke would drag his existential heels through. Ultimately, though, [b]Darkstar[/b]’s maturation from dubstep’s next big things into modern pop classicists continues to intrigue. Dubstep will miss them; they won’t miss dubstep.

[b]Louise Brailey[/b]

Click here to get your copy of Darkstar’s ‘North’ from Rough Trade Shops.