If you're expecting 10 tunes along the lines of Darkstar's UK-garage-y single "Aidy's Girl is a Computer" you're in for a surprise. Or even if you're just expecting a record in-keeping with what, to date, most would consider to be the Hyperdub sound (dubstep, techno, electro, dub, whatever) you're also in for a surprise. Fans of the label don't need to panic though - Hyperdub haven't done a Peacefrog and started releasing incongruous indie artists.
What they HAVE done, is something really cool.
"North" sets its stall out in the first two tracks. Track 1 (side 1) is a stunner: there's a misleading bleepy intro before we get to music, reminiscent of Spiritualized's "Broken Heart". Track 2 is a cover version of a little-known Human League b-side (I'd never heard of it anyway) "You Remind me of Gold" (here titled just "Gold"). Whilst sonically Darkstar don't have that much in common with the Human League there IS one, key, common thread - their ability to sound both cutting edge and popular. This is pop...I think, but it is that rare breed of pop which is also adventurous and experimental. There are clear parallels with (label-mate) Burial, if not in style, then in terms of an overall mood of sadness and wistfulness.
So what exactly is "North"? Well it's very difficult to say - and that is a good thing.
One description could be: suppose Robert Wyatt, inspired by Pet Shop Boys and Massive Attack, decided to make an album that sounded a bit like both? But that really that doesn't do Darkstar or any of the three of my proposed influences justice. But you might just see what I mean if you've heard this?
There are deep electronics, synthetic strings, lead vocals on all but two of the selections, great melodies and a cinematic quality (all of these songs I think, would sound great on a film soundtrack). One recurring feature is an interesting effect on the vocals - sounds like a corrupted MP3 file. Remember hip-hop records where the crackles were on the recording not the vinyl? Well this is the modern equivalent, it would seem (note to Amazon: expect a higher than usual number of returns of apparently faulty copies).
Darkstar deserve to (and hopefully will) be a massive commercial success. If this CD isn't top of those (once interesting, now tedious ubiquitous, arbitrary and inevitable) end-of-year charts beloved of journalists with little to say, and record companies with units to shift into Xmas stockings - then that just proves my point - such people have either no imagination or a hidden agenda. "North" has a very good chance of making #1 in my own never-to-be-compiled "Best of 2010" chart.
And in any event, if it doesn't turn out to be huge I'll eat my beanie hat (or at least, stuff it down some journalist's throat).