- "Do you know when you go, 'Well, I'm going to go to uni, and I'm gonna have this job. Then I'm gonna buy a house, gonna meet a boy, settle down'? I wish I could have followed that. But I haven't," says an interview snippet on Darkstar's third album. It's spoken matter-of-factly, but the sadness is evident, a reflection of the melancholy associated with the North of England. The economically beset region, where bandmates Aidan Whalley and James Young hail from, is the focus of Foam Island. Their earliest records were preoccupied with the dark corners of London's dubstep scene, North was more introspective and News From Nowhere, recorded in Yorkshire, embodied a pastoral tradition of English pop. For Foam Island, the pared-down duo made trips to Huddersfield in Yorkshire, a sort of halfway point between where each of them grew up. They met and spent time with residents, whose perspectives form the backbone of Foam Island's arresting portrayal of the area.
Foam Island prominently features interviews with people around Huddersfield (read more backstory in The FADER's making-of feature). Far from exploitation or class tourism, the clips they include are respectful, sometimes heartbreaking and other times hopeful. The saddest moment comes early on in "Cuts," which is a press release from the Kirklees Council website read aloud. This account of funding issues and the drastic measures needed to get up to snuff is chilling, and highlights how bureaucratic decisions affect the people and their communities.
Though Foam Island is tied to present day—the Conservatives' re-election in May hangs over it, directly inspiring two tracks—it's also a way for Whalley and Young to revisit their cultural and musical roots. They seem to have learned from former vocalist James Buttery how to write strong hooks, and now wrap them in the stately loneliness that dates back to "Aidy's Girl Is A Computer." Occasionally they dress the music with ornate strings and the kind of chamber instrumentation heard on News From Nowhere, but now it all sounds more sad than uplifting.
Foam Island has some of Darkstar's best songs, and the tones are varied considering the downcast subject matter. "Go Natural," a slice of peppy and orchestral electro-pop, is the odd one out, while the acid-tongued "Pin Secure" recalls slinky, post-millennial R&B in its mechanical herky-jerk. With concise, often poetic lyrics, the duo address the grind of daily life in a society moving towards austerity ("Through The Motions") and the plight of a new generation born into it ("Stoke The Fire," "Foam Island"). Sung through Whalley's reedy high register, the words are powerful but ephemeral—at one moment his voice hovers above the electronics, only to dissolve into them the next.
Saving their boldest turn for last, "Days Burn Blue" is the most overt reference to David Cameron's government. Written in the days following the general election, its foreboding, boots-on-the-ground march signals a bitter turn for the record and the North in general. As with the rest of Foam Island, however, there's still hope woven into the album's closing section.
Darkstar's tale is neither damning nor particularly optimistic. They've become powerful songwriters since they focused on the craft in 2010, and Foam Island shows it off more than anything else. It's a loving, fair and uncommon look at everyday life in places, like Huddersfield, that are typically underrepresented or just completely ignored. "Days Burn Blue" is preceded by the gorgeous lullaby "Javan's Call," which is a glimmer of positivity that casts a shadow over the closer. In the album's final interview clip, the man (presumably Javan) says, "I don't think I'd like to leave," going against the notion that the North is somewhere to escape from. "Just because of the people...my friendship group, my family. I do think there's future here."
01. Basic Things
02. Inherent In The Fibre
03. Stoke The Fire
05. Go Natural
06. A Different Kind Of Struggle
07. Pin Secure
08. Through The Motions
09. Tilly's Theme
10. Foam Island
11. Javan's Call
12. Days Burn Blue