Does the title of London duo Darkstar’s third album conjure up an image of a wild Heston Blumenthalian gastronomic experiment for you?
Could a Foam Island involve a nightmarish soundtrack to the horror of sitting down to find your perfectly-cooked steak and chips submerged in the middle of a hellish, creamy morass? Thankfully, no cutting-edge culinary carnage is present. However upon listening it quickly becomes clear over the album’s 40 minutes that the artists have bitten off substantially more than they can chew.
The unsavoury problem is that the ingredients just don’t work together. Chopped and sprinkled between the main dish of electro pop tunes lie a number of bland spoken word appetisers, from general street chatter to a local authority announcing a consultation on budget cut decisions. And none of them are particularly interesting or revealing. Somewhere, somehow, Darkstar’s Aiden Whalley and James Young must be attempting to elucidate the detachment between the current Torynomics austerity programme and the grittier, shittier realities of daily life. Nice idea. But it just leaves an odd taste in the mouth. The samples are too long, too isolated and clumsy to paint an effective narrative for the listener.
Between these mishaps, the remaining two-thirds of the album is a mixed bag of dark – if glossy and polished – tunes. Some do the trick. Such as “Pin Secure” with its slow motion bleeping funk and understated vocals, complete with a strong chorus of chattering electronic clatter. And the screwed afrobeat leaning of “Stoke The Fire” recalls a more melancholy Vampire Weekend. But elsewhere, the down tempo tunes with their shiny edges and lightweight singing just fail to properly ignite. The title track is perhaps the worst offender with its plodding string-assisted meander, while “Through The Motions” sounds like something Arthur Russell would have abandoned on the cutting room floor.
If you liked Darkstar’s early Hyperdub dancefloor 12”s, beware of the half-baked ideas of Foam Island. Despite all of the duo’s lofty intentions, slick artwork and studio trickery, the soggy samples and limp singing guarantee you won’t go back for seconds.