Darkstar’s slim but immaculate catalogue represents one of UK electronic music’s most imposing statements in the past decade. A group who never occupy the same space twice, the duo’s new album ‘Civic Jams’ is their first in five years, with 2015’s ‘Foam Island’ making explicit the pre-Brexit anger bubbling up across the North of England.
Sharply distinct in tone and execution, ‘Civic Jams’ is a succinct – a mere nine tracks – return but it’s one laden with fresh ideas. It’s a rich and rewarding listen, blessed with beatific immediacy but an astounding degree of depth, interpolating shoegaze elements alongside club-leaning electronics.
Pre-release track ‘Text’ presents digital melancholia with an effervescent sweetness, the beauty of their approach matched to the downcast electronics. The emotional pang of Darkstar’s work remains intact, shorn of any direct political comment but still feeling wholly embedded in the economic and societal frustrations of attempting to make art in an austerity-laden London.
‘Jam’ is perhaps the most explicit system-ready frug-out on the album, with Darkstar’s explosive rhythmic chassis allowing rave-leaning electronics to become permeated with subtle drones, and dreamy, hallucinatory aural effects. Indeed, the pair interweave elements from a 2018 Organ Reframed performance in the Union Chapel on the record, utilising drone-like nippets to form the bedrock of ‘Civic Jams’. It’s a technique that results in a blurred, almost opaque sense of colour – think the woozy ‘Loon’ or even the self-explanatory finale ‘Blurred’.
Reducing music down its fundamental elements, Darkstar then exert creative pressure, bending and twisting these primordial chunks until they spark back into life. ‘Wolf’ has a crucial organic feeling, while ‘Tuesday’ drifts unanchored, its weightlessness recalling Slowdive at their blissed out best.
Challenging but retaining a commitment to melodic candor, ‘Civic Jams’ is an exploration of space in both the aural and personal sense. A record informed by libraries, playgrounds, and other civic spaces, it aims for openness while at the same time reflecting the inhibitions and pressures that linger on our shoulders by reactionary authority.
Daring and beautiful, ‘Civic Jams’ lays claim to a singular location within British music.
Words: Robin Murray
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