DARKSTAR – NORTH
(HYPERDUB – HDBLP006)
1. In The Wings
4. Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer
5. Under One Roof
6. Two Chords
9. Dear Heartbeat
10. When It’s Gone
Release Date: Mon 18th Oct
On their feverishly anticipated debut album, ‘North’, Darkstar emerge as the musical entity that you get the feeling they have always wanted to be. Finally stepping out once and for all from the uneasy shadow that the dubstep tag has cast over them up to now, they have unleashed a dark, dense and intensely personal record.
Given the near-impossible wave of hype that has surrounded them ever since the stunning ‘Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer’ single – one of the most ubiquitous and universally lauded tracks of last year – the decisive move away from the sound that forged their reputation is a brave decision, but undoubtedly one that has paid dividends. Their first two singles for Hyperdub – ‘Need You’ and ‘Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer’ – had already hinted at the nascent realization of this identity, displaying a sense of fragility and melancholy that belied their dancefloor confines, but now, having scrapped nearly a whole album’s worth of material and undergone some drastic structural and sonic changes, they have forged the path that they always seemed destined to take, without restraint.
Draining away the lurid colours of their earlier releases, ‘North’ is a grayscale synth masterpiece. Dense, detailed and melancholic, Darkstar weave an immersive web of sound that has the ability to engulf you completely. Buttery’s heavily processed vocals become another instrument at the hands of the production duo, as they are absorbed into the sonic soundscapes, stuttering through the mesh of hazy synths, straining to pierce it with fleeting moments of clarity. Refracting the traditional instrumental prominence of piano and strings through their viscous synths and computerized productions, the album evokes visceral and human emotion that was previously absent, grounding the music in a realism and honesty that belies their earlier incarnations, while still maintaining the poignant otherworldly quality that has always made them so intriguing.
While the album has many outstanding moments, to pick apart the individual songs would be to diminish the immersive and transcendent qualities of the album as a whole – a world which has been painstakingly constructed and from which it is impossible to escape once entangled. From the moment it awakes with the slow burning cinematic opener ‘In The Wings’, drifting in to the wistful and skittering ‘Gold’ through the climactic industrial march of the eponymous ‘North’ to the heartbreaking ‘Dear Heartbeat’, it draws you from one track to the next, sweeping you along helplessly as if a single, masterful suite of music. It is only as closer ‘When It’s Gone’ dissipates, leaving only the naked piano and vocals to play it out, that you are finally let go from its grasp.
Ambitious. Accomplished. Beautiful.