The Hyperdub trio's North is a tonic for the heart and soul.
Tue Oct 19 2010
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
"Gold," the lead single from Darkstar's debut album, is a reworking of the 1982 Human League B-side "You Remind Me of Gold." (It was the flip of "Mirror Man," trivia fans.) Yet its lyrics—"Even though there was no sun today / And though you are a thousand miles away / You remind me of gold"—perfectly capsulize the slightly bleak, wistful and ultimately hopeful feel of the trio's debut album, as do the track's stately tempo and muted arrangement (icy, elegant piano over a bare-bones bassline) paired with subdued, breathy vocals. It's an odd release for Kode9's Hyperdub label, normally a repository for woofer-waffling dubstep theatrics—but no matter, as North is one of the most charming albums of the year thus far, a near-perfect merging of melancholic '80s-era synth-pop and minimalist-minded art-rock, with the band never letting its purposeful experimentation get in the way of a hummable tune.
Listening to North, one is reminded of the xx, with close-miked, near-whispered vocals, spare percussion and moody, minor-key melodies. But where that band focuses on sweeping gestures and shifting dynamics, Darkstar's music is content to simply be. Still, it draws you in like a magnet: Songs like the gorgeous "Deadness," with its heavenly synth washes (is that a harmonium?) and restrained guitar lines, cut through a light patina of glitchiness in an utterly seductive manner. The album may be a bit too muted for some; there's little in the kind of build-up-break-down kinetics that, in their Pavlovian way, get the blood flowing. But North is a tonic, one that soothes the heart and the soul.