Esoteric though it may seem, the title Civic Jams actually sums up this Darkstar record rather well. ‘Civic’ in this context suggests something restrained, maybe a bit prim, while ‘jams’ hints at the album’s more club-oriented elements.
We have here from James Young and Aiden Whalley a combination of lo-fi beats and frigid, introverted synth pads, which successfully creates a moody atmosphere, but never really achieves anything with it. So many perfectly good songwriting ideas have their potential wasted by simply sounding flat in their monochrome arrangements.
Jam is the most successful song, pitched-down claps shimmying up against a syncopated bassline to create a lo-fi garage tune. Have Jamie xx and James Blake already pulled off this type of gentrified dance music with more panache? Perhaps, but the vintage M1 sound is pleasing to the ear*. A plodding beat is the anchor for 30’s oppressive gloominess, while Wolf alternates between 4×4 and more lopsided rhythms.
Lyrics are ever-present, but buried in the mix to the extent that words and meaning frequently get lost. The tone is earnest (“I live in your good guidance, I live in your good grace / how do you feel, my love? I live in your good guidance”), the tunes melodious but meandering, and they never have much impact on the music’s enjoyability. Tuesday eschews these lyrics and instead utilises a repetitive vocal sample which perhaps aims for the woozy ambience of Aphex Twin’s Tha, but falls well short.
Burial is the most important influence across Civic Jams, but while his productions, his songwriting, his structures carry a real emotional heft, Darkstar sound for the most part as if they’re playing for time.
- It should be said that Jam’s Pushups In The Rave Mix, which comes as a bonus track, hits harder and has more artistic verve than anything on the album proper