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News From Nowhere

Whilst a large majority of the world's musical opinion outlets were engaged in a back-patting contest at the end of 2012 - with Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar gaining particular praise - US site XLR8R cast a more critical eye over the past twelve months, selecting both the most underwhelming and overrated releases of the year. At the top of both lists were Warp Records products. Squarepusher's Ufabulum was deemed the most disappointing, whilst TNGHT's self-titled debut EP was admonished for garnering the greatest amount of unjust praise.

Now, I've made so many rash decisions in my life that when I recently tried to buy life insurance on a popular comparison website I awoke the next day to find a dead meerkat stapled to my front door with the words 'WE DON'T WANT YOUR CUSTOM - SIMPLES' daubed below it in a veritable Long Island Iced Tea of bodily fluids, so I shan't launch in to an attack on Warp in the pages of a magazine with which it shares a hometown. It did get me thinking, however, about the imprint in this day and age, and this flicker of doubt remained in my mind as I got stuck in to their latest full-length release, Darkstar's News From Nowhere.

The announcement that Darkstar were migrating from Hyperdub to Warp for their second album didn't generate quite as much excitement as it once would have. Upon listening, it's hard to admit that News From Nowhere generates as much excitement as their stellar debut North, but that's not to say that it's a dud. Penned in a West Yorkshire retreat, the album is the first set of material that Darkstar have written as the trio that they became whilst touring North. It's easy to tell that the arrangements are now the work of a 'proper' group, with the beat craft that embodied tracks likes 'Aidy's Girl Is A Computer' replaced with collaboratively constructed instrumentation.

This sense of ensemble works with varying results. 'Timeaway' and 'A Day's Pay For A Day's Work' lose their focus slightly within their own layers, but on the likes of 'Armonica', 'Young Heart's' and 'You Don't Need A Weatherman' each element meshes excellently to remind us why, when they're on form, Darkstar's vision is hard to trump. That said, on 'Amplified Ease' their collective vision sits slightly too close to another Collective, of the Animal variety.

The record closes with two tracks of introspective runmination - seven-minute closer 'Hold Me Down' is a particularly sensuous gem - and leaves us to reflect that, on this evidence, both the label and artist can still fill a valuable place in the world.

by Now Then Manchester