For many, the glitch-meets-dubstep of Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer represents Darkstar at their best. Back when the band were on the Hyperdub label and little more than tinkering production bods, it appeared that they could be capable of doing no wrong.
Shifting labels and styles is a brave move and with their second album bearing almost no resemblance to their previous work, it’s fair to say that Darkstar has moved on significantly. Debut album North took the band away from the glitches and towards a synth-pop backdrop, and now they’ve morphed once again. In light of such changes, there is almost always going to be some backlash, and charges that Darkstar are hipster tosh and backwards looking chancers have been levelled in some quarters. Such arguments hold little water however when a band is as eager as Darkstar to continually keep moving, for better or worse. Inevitably some gambles with fail, and others will pay off, but at least here there is an apparent ambition to continually re-invent.
Regardless of the reasons for a stylistic swerve, News From Nowhere sees Darkstar in fine form and, it would appear that this time around the gamble has paid off. Light Body Clock Starter’s woozy waves and clockwork percussion harks back to the days of Aidy and his computer. “Wake me up,” croons Buttery, not entirely meaning it and sounding as if he’d be more happy wrapped up in a duvet for the rest of the day. This gives way to Timeaway’s chiming electronica, which, by dint of its wonderful chorus, comes across like Orbital at their poppiest. It’s the first sign that Darkstar might be onto something here.
Unfortunately, it all goes a bit awry with Armonica, which swamps Buttery’s vocal lines in effects, making them stretch beyond their limits like heated blu-tac. Married to a basic drum pattern and guitar riff, it sounds as if they’ve been recorded to warped tape. There’s very little to grab hold of or get lost in.
Once A Day’s Pay For A Day’s Work’s piano starts, it’s clear that the band have found a rich vein of inspiration. That the inspiration appears to have been derived from the Beach Boys is a rather happy coincidence. Not that there’s anything particularly happy about A Day’s Pay; it is washed in haunted melancholia and the sound of electronic hearts fluttering. Buttery’s immaculate vocals elevate it to pop perfection as he channels the Beach Boys’ wonderful harmonies deftly.
If A Day’s Pay borders on Pet Sounds, then Amplified Ease goes one further and invokes Animal Collective. It’s here that the band seem at their best. A solid and powerful bass note throbs behind disjointed clockwork percussion as Buttery explains that he’ll be fine on his own. Presumably he’ll do this by adopting a mechanical, detached approach to life, if the treatment given to his vocals is anything to go by. The juxtaposition of the robotic Buttery and the malfunctioning sound of the percussion is a nice touch, suggesting that everything falls apart, mechanical or flesh and blood. You Don’t Need A Weatherman finds the band in similar Animal Collective territory, but now Buttery is more human and being chilled to the bone by the cold wind (presumably, he knows which way its blowing). Musically it’s a subdued affair, but there are echoes of the dancefloor euphoria mixed with relentless paranoia drifting in and out throughout the song’s duration, conjuring up images of the long walk home from an unsuccessful night clubbing.
They save the best till last however with the expansive ambience of Hold Me Down. An insulated collision of pop, classical tones and understated electronica, it meanders beautifully, disregarding the need for structure and investing entirely in mood. As a result, it is the most assured moment of News From Nowhere, and perhaps points to the direction in which Darkstar are headed next.