Personnel: Aiden Whalley (vocals).
Photographer: James Medcraft.
Following Darkstar's second album (and Warp debut) News from Nowhere, the dubstep-turned-electro-pop band, lost vocalist James Buttery, reverting to their original duo lineup of Aiden Whalley and James Young. Whalley takes the reins here as the duo's vocalist, but they retain their experimental pop sound, with perhaps a little bit more emphasis on beats than on their previous effort. The most intriguing characteristic of Foam Island is its collage-like feel incorporating snippets of interviews with young adults from Huddersfield, England, a town located close to where Darkstar are based. Their words generally reveal a sense of contentment with their environment, and the citizens feel comfortable with their surroundings and peers, although there's a bit of a disconnect as the youth sometimes feel like they have to struggle to have a voice and to have the rest of the world understand them and their issues. These spoken vignettes shape the mood of the album, which is generally light and wondrous, but with a bit of a tense, anxious undercurrent. The songs can generally be described as warped, trippy pop with restrained R&B-influenced vocals. "Stoke the Fire" is the most straightforward dance cut here, with its booming bass thumps and steady beat. The slinky "Go Natural" gradually accelerates its tempo while building up layers of fluttering pizzicato strings. Twinkling, twisting compositions such as these bring to mind what would happen if the group's labelmates Plaid attempted to write proper pop songs with vocals. First single "Pin Secure" opens with a spare downtempo groove and bleeps, and adds understated vocals and shimmering synths. "Through the Motions" features robot-like vocals and abstract tones, suggesting more straightforward pop versions of their twitchy early singles for Hyperdub such as "Aidy's Girl Is a Computer." Foam Island is a curious, enjoyable album that abundantly showcases Darkstar's tendencies for experimentation as well as pop songwriting. ~ Paul Simpson