British electronic trio Darkstar isn’t in a hurry to go anywhere in particular on their sophomore effort, News from Nowhere. The album is a slugglishly paced, purgatorial mix of Animal Collective-style sequencing and the eerie, formless minimalism of The King of Limbs-era Radiohead. More often than not, that combination leads the band inside a drifting cloud of ambient, overripe electronica that’s as beautiful as it is frustrating and forgettable, making for a pretty but ultimately unremarkable listening experience.
Darkstar has an ear for detail that’s been carried over from their harder-edged and more percussive 2010 debut, North. On News from Nowhere, the band strikes a paradoxical balance, maintaining an organic allure despite the obvious amounts of programming and tinkering that’s necessary to facilitate their shapeless music. The album is almost silky as a result, methodically layered and plotted without ever sounding calculating. It’s the reason why something like “Light Body Clock Starter” can unfold as naturally and gracefully as a slowly blooming flower: Borrowing the metallic sheets of sound that open up Björk’s “All Is Full of Love,” the track is a triumph of lavish, formless synths coalescing behind vocalist James Buttery’s tight-lipped moans.
And yet the similarities between “Light Body Clock Starter” and the Björk classic provides insight into one of News from Nowhere‘s biggest flaws. For all of its playful, ambrosial qualities, the album is desperately hungry for ideas, and with the members of Darkstar often focused on trivial electronic minutiae, those ideas tend to be borrowed from the band’s easily identified muses. One track (”-”), built on hazy reverb and reversed vocal samples, is strangely analogous to Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower,” particularly with singer James Buttery doing his damnedest to impersonate Thom Yorke’s high vocal register. Elsewhere, “Amplified Ease” features the kind of rapid-fire chanting and lo-fi sampling perfected by any number of tracks on Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, particularly “Lion in a Coma” and “Brother Sport.”
In other words, not only has this kind of music been done before, it’s been done in a much more engaging and original manner by artists of superior talent. Offering the same level of meticulousness as North isn’t quite good enough for News from Nowhere, which serves up a wonderfully lush but ultimately rudderless slice of droning electronica that’s much too imitative to be anything other than a pleasant distraction.