The electronic dance album (or LP) is probably one of the most mystifying formats in musical history. It needs to work for the practical application of the nightclub dance floor, while adopting enough of an approachable narrative for the car stereo. Few electronic artists have ever attempted the unattainable holy grail of the album, while even fewer have managed a successful execution of its core qualities. The latest group to try is London trio Dark Sky with an outing on Modeselektor’s Monkeytown imprint called Imagin. The first thing I recall is John Hopkins or Nihls Frahm as an arpeggio calls in the start of the album and title track before an irregular beat establishes its rhythmical intentions. I soon realise that the track Imagin, is in-fact the model on which the whole album is built. The tracks continuously glide between vocal-led compositions adorned with densely lethargic synth textures to beat-focussed constructions, anchored by sub-bass drawls. This form is not only the meta-form for the album, but also the compositional form of many of the tracks. It reduces the start of the album to a slow laborious affair as the first few tracks all feature elongated introductions that fall away into riotous beats that never really get going. It’s only around Vivid where things seem to simmer down into conclusive tracks. The trip-hop-like production on Vivid is infused with hints of post-dubstep traits and this vocal-led production is definitely one of the standout tracks on the album as it eschews the introduction/refrain forms that preceded it.
It’s here where I noticed the soundcloud plays dropped off, when it should have in fact increased since it is exactly here where things get interesting and Dark Sky’s stamp is most prominent. The second half of the album re-imagines the group’s bass-heavy productions perfectly for the album format. Nothing Changes re-enforces this idea as the same vocalist instils an ephemeral beauty to the short melodic parts as big orchestral-sounding synths fill the stereo field. The sound-design is impeccably crafted on Imagin. From the fairly subdued moments that inaugurate the album to the club-orientated stompers like Odyssey, the sounds that comprise the album are big and lush and on Odyssey I was particularly taken a back when that second verse hits like a bus. Manuka, a track that embodies the practical side of the album yet again, has different elements float in and out of each other like a singular thread that makes up an intricate tapestry. If there was ever a visual metaphor that could describe Dark Sky ‘s music, it is in their name. Nothing is subverted nor is it obtrusive, everything fits seamlessly into the other and a kick drum is as pronounced as the synthetic pads that fill the background. Even slight euphoric melodic motifs don’t come across as cheesy as they fall into place along side the deep end that the trio work in.
When Dark Sky do something it can often be quite brilliant and it has been proven time and again in the past with various EP’s and singles, but I’m afraid the album concept has eluded them somewhat on Imagin. The good tracks on the album like Nothing Changes, Odyssey and Rainkist are amazing, while the filler tracks just fall short of creating a rounded album. They might start off with the intention of a nonchalant expression only to fall victim to Dark Sky’s club-based origins and get sucked into an overbearing beat. Purple Clouds, the track that closes the album is its most vehement aggressor. What starts out as a vocal-led cinematic conclusion to the story line of the album breaks into heavy rhythmical patterns that instead of completing the narrative of the album, just lingers like an un-necessary cliff-hanger. Imagin would have been far better off as a couple of EPs or a mini-album. There are excellent moments on Imagin and the Dark Sky’s sound is as powerful and rich as ever, but unfortunately that’s exactly what they are, moments and the album format’s nature remains elusive on this outing.