London electronic act Darkstar, originally realeasing singles at the forefront of Britain’s grime and garage world, had its breakthrough with the loved-up, refined dubstep anthem “Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer” in 2009 and followed it up quickly with Hyperdub full-length North. But while North featured crisp tracks like “Gold,” a slowed-down cover of a Human League b-side, News From Nowhere, the band’s first release on Warp, is earthy, warm and less daring than Darkstar’s previous forays into fresh electronic subgenres.
Unlike North, it was recorded collectively by all three members, and it marks a serious departure from the previously tread territory. Darkstar seems to have turned from the U.K. grime and garage scene to pull inspiration from American indie rock. The characteristically brooding dubstep that the band has cultivated and brought to popular attention has faded: The first half of News From Nowhere is pianos to the front. There are no harsh beats, no stop-and-go harried vocals. And tracks like “Ampilified Ease” and “Armonica,” so thoroughly looped with colorful psychedelia, are strikingly more Merriweather Post Pavilion than “Aidy’s Girl.” Even single “Timeaway” employs familiar-sounding, dream-like echoing vocals and a hypnotic, sequenced undercurrent.
James Buttery, who has officially joined beatmakers James Young and Aiden Whalley as a full-fledged band member, adds soft vocals that are more sound than words. His singing on “A Day’s Pay For A Day’s Work,” easily the album highlight, is straight from the pages of the slow track on an early ’60s pop record (with subtly enchanting beats for a 2013 bent). And how ironically he wistfully laments “losing touch.”
The sonic landscape of Nowhere is a lush jungle. But here there are no panthers lying in wait, no piranhas to reduce your legs to bone in mere minutes. Nowhere is safe—still beautiful and executed to perfection, but safe.