Starkey: Ear Drums And Black Holes
Planet Mu

Fresh: that's the word that springs to mind when listening to Starkey's material. Of course, what's fresh today might be stale tomorrow but something tells me Starkey's not only aware of that but doesn't much care either. I suspect he's solely focused on what's happening NOW and all the more power to him; no doubt the future'll take care of itself and history'll be the judge of whatever contribution he makes to the scene. For now, Ear Drums And Black Holes (his second full-length for Planet Mu) sounds fresh indeed, and very much situates Starkey alongside fellow future-funksters Ikonika, Joker, Zomby, and the like. It's difficult to classify Starkey's wonky tracks—probably something he'd prefer anyway—as they're not one thing or another. Of course dubstep's a big part of it, but the tracks are mongrels. Think of his music more as the sound of someone keeping his eyes wide open and ears to the ground.

A perfect opener, “OK Luv” draws the listener in with an uplifting swirl of deep head-nod and radiant synth spritzes, after which Starkey's so-called ‘Street Bass' sound gets a thorough workout on “Murderous Words,” which scatters the rhymes of Texan MC Cerebral Vortex over ever-mutating percussive wobble and tripped-out synth effects, and “Numb,” where UK Grime MC P-Money does verbal somersaults. After an intro that could pass for The Field, “Fourth Dimension” settles itself into a twisted blend of 8-bit electro-crunk madness, cartwheeling synth patterns, and rave-ready vocal yelps.

The album also presents ample evidence of Starkey's range. The presence of Anneka Warburton's angelic voice elevates “Stars” in a way that shows he's just as capable of producing an alluring electronic pop tune as he is a heady banger like “Spacecraft” (the album's astral dimension also surfaces on “Alienstyles” where Starkey features his own vocodered singing), and King Midas Sound vocalist Kiki Hitomi later brings a similar humanizing warmth to “New Cities.” “Neck Snap” similarly showcases his softer side in its luscious mix of melancholy synth melodies.

Regardless of differences in style, the tracks share certain qualities, with many of them heavily synthetic, effervescent, multi-layered, and powered by bass-heavy, robo-funk beats. But what stands out most about Starkey's sound is that, though it might have ties to dubstep, crunk, grime, or what have you, it's a highly personalized fusion of all such influences. In short, rather than be handcuffed by genre influences, he's found a way to alchemize them into a signature open-ended sound. There's no shortage of wobble, but there's also a whole lot more.

April 2010