Dark Star - "Twenty Twenty Sound" (EMI Harvest 1999, 497 2012)
From Aural Innovations #9 (January 2000)
Back in AI#6, I did a comprehensive run down of all the various 'Dark Stars' in existance (past and present) around the world. It was this newest one, derived from three members of the band Levitation, that piqued my interest to the point of doing that review. Their full-length debut wasn't available at that time, but I did discuss one of their earlier CD-EP's, "I Am the Sun." While that song does appear on 'Twenty Twenty Sound,' the other three tracks that followed do not appear here (a good thing... those import EPs ain't cheap). Instead, we have eight other tunes of spirited cosmic rock that are among the year's best (narrowly missing my Top 10 list).
For whatever reason, Levitation only lasted two albums before fragmenting, and while they had something good going, it seems the split might have turned out for the best, because as a stripped-down trio Dark Star (oxymoronically) really shines bright. "Graceadelica" is simply the best new song I've heard all year... at once up-tempo and anxious, and also 100% out there in the cosmos. The guitar work of Christian 'Bic' Hayes (once of the Cardiacs) is fabulous... seemingly one foot on the pedal, one hand on the gliss bar. As the band's lead singer, Hayes shows off a pretty good voice even though he often hides it behind effects - almost the ole' megaphone trick. The rhythm section of Laurence O'Keefe and David Francolini (bass and drums, respectively) is solid and the unit really knows how to rock as we soon find out. "3 AM" is going to be all nice and dreamy we're lead to believe... until the badass chorus blasts through. A really well-written song certainly. "A Disaffection" rocks out most of the way through, and gets a bit dirtier. "Lies" is more like the old band, subtle, dreamy and adrift in the aether... would have fit nicely into Porcupine Tree's 'Stupid Dream.' "The Sound of Awake" starts similarly, but cranks it up in the end for a rousing finish.
Almost hard to call it a debut given their long history together, but 'Twenty Twenty Sound' is very strong start to finish (all 43 minutes... I guess those other EP tracks *should* have been used here!), and for it to be featured on a major label gives a big boost to cosmic rock. I'd just like to know why EMI hasn't yet bothered to release it here in the states! So, for those of you in the states who hesitate about the big import ticket price, you can rest assured that you'll at least get a worthy product with this one. And you still might want to write EMI a letter and give 'em hell.
You can visit Dark Star at their web site.
Reviewed by Keith Henderson