Album review: Starkey – ‘Ear Drums And Black Holes’ (Planet Mu)

The American bass master takes UK dubstep and chucks it back at us louder and heavier than ever

Northern accents. Irony. Guinness. Some things don’t translate across the pond. Given the British sensibility that resonates from grime and dubstep – that which speaks of high-rise estates and history written in old rave flyers – maybe at one point in time these genres would be included in that list too. Not any more, thanks to Philadelphia’s Starkey.

His 2008 debut ‘Ephemeral Exhibits’ was an outsider’s take on our inner-city soundtrack, tracing the link between our bass-heavy genres and those of the US, laying waste to purists and shoddy bass bins alike.

‘Ear Drums…’ sees PJ Geissinger further refining his sound, changing focus from club bangers to more structured, song-based affairs. This isn’t just obvious on ‘Stars’, where a cooing female vocal is sprinkled with Casio bleeps that settle like fairy dust, but also on ‘Alienstyles’ where Starkey’s auto-tuned vocal is set to synthesized strings, taking future R&B and weighting it with garage’s syncopations. Even the instrumental ‘Pleasure Points’ glistens with emotion as fitful arpeggios build and suspend, filling your heart with feelings you’ll only regret in the morning.

That’s not to say Starkey’s gone soft, he’s still caught by the G-force of dubstep’s swing, teasing out the tension between blissful breakdowns and chest-collapsing bass. ‘Fourth Dimension’ comes on with epic Vangelis pads ripped from d’n’b’s sci-fi period before settling into a twisted house groove, while ‘Multidial’’s vertiginous synth oscillations feel like being trapped in a vortex where time itself is being carved out of sync by Rusko-esque midrange chainsaw sounds. It’s only on ‘Club Games’ that the tension snaps, the sci-fi romanticism that spills from the fibrous synth washes is bolted to a leaden rap by Cerebral Vortex and tinny percussion. Still, anyone who has found dubstep’s gestures towards a moshpit mentality disappointing will find consolation here; ‘Ear Drums…’ is muscular without being aggressive, heavy yet melodic. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun.

[b]Louise Brailey[/b]

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Click here to get your copy of Starkey’s ‘Ear Drums And Black Holes’ from the Rough Trade shop.