Darkstar: North / Gold (Hyperdub)
Compared to most of the output on the UK label Hyperdub, Darkstar is ostensibly a pop act — so for those expecting dubstep or even its most abstract offshoots like Burial, you have been warned. North combines oblique elements of dubstep, IDM, indie rock, synth-pop and more into an oddly melancholy melange of sounds. Their output is largely characterized by the vocals of singer as well as arrangements that include glitchy textures, piano and guitar. There really are not very obvious beats here, not compared to the label’s usual repertoire, and in most instances any kind of percussion exists primarily as textural flourishes to the main synth arrangements, or as a backbeat pulse to move the songs forward. Darkstar makes generous use of stuttering effects on vocals and percussion, so there is a granular, sputtery quality to many of the sounds that adds a nuance of tension to what are already fairly gloomy songs. This technique does them well here, though, helping tie things together with a consistent palette of sounds. “Deadness” is a really handsome combination of delicate guitar work, synth strings, glitchy percussion and stuttering vocals.“Gold” is a cover of a Human League album track and has gotten attention for that reason, but the John Roberts remix that was issued independently of North is really excellent. It moves Darkstar away from the gloom of their album and is suddenly something quite compelling as both an arrangement on its own and a dancefloor mover.