If “essential is not visible to our eyes”, it’s also true that essential is not audible to our ears. This means that in a period in which many productions pursue the path of filling all the audible spaces with walls of sound, it is easy to forget musical essence is a balance of empty and full spaces, sound and silence giving us the real perception of an inner experience.
This is what Darkstar (Aiden Whalley and James Young) offer: an essential experience based on the choice of a few layers and sounds, where reflection is promoted by the silent instants between a sound and another. Far from ambient, electronic played by Darkstar is pop music, danceable in the way Intelligent Dance Music can be.
After important collaborations with Actress, Wild Beasts and Zomby, with their fourth album Civic Jams (out via Warp) they show the overlap of personal and social experience in a strange period like this, offering personal perceptions in connections with common feelings. Born before the pandemic, the album takes a new sense of empathy because a civic jam means helping each other when every individual is in need.
“We made a record and if even just a small number of people can take comfort in it, it’s more than done its job; We wanted to look at singling out those moments when you balance the everyday fuckery you find yourself in with being in a place or a community that resonates with you and eases the burden”.
Their love for UK bass music, 2Step especially, and for the delicacy of shoegaze is shown in nine little jewels of electronic music. “Jam” is a slight 2Step enriched by synth caresses and a soft voice: “Like if you were listening to your neighbour playing tunes through the wall or a car sped past and the bass reverberated out”. “1001” is the best connection between bass music and shoegaze, with reverberation and dreamy sounds supported by an obsessive beat. Like entering in a church and attending an electronic gospel.
“Wolf” puts together electronic clapping and drum machines with a melody taken from the best indie folk, like listening to Sufjan Stevens in love with a laptop. Delicate, elegant and relaxing. “Loon” is a slow track in which the space is taken by the dreamy voice and a sorrowful beat, a search of a moment of relief in a time of chaos. “Tuesday” is the closest to a dance song, a female voice on a layer of synthetic fragments, a track ready for interesting remixes for alternative clubs.
Civic Jams is a jewel, a safety net made of excellent electronic calling for mutual help and the sense of community in opposition to isolation.