Over the past two years, London trio Dark Sky has clawed its way into the bass-music conversation on the back of strong releases for labels such as Black Acre, Pictures Music, Blunted Robots, and 50 Weapons. The strong label pedigree certainly hasn't hurt the young outfit's profile, but the success of Dark Sky can be boiled down to one simple element: drums. More specifically, big, clacking, organic-sounding drums. Often juxtaposed against pastoral melodies which only amplified their impact, Dark Sky's drums capture the snappy, steppy immediacy of UK funky, even as the group utilizes those infectious rhythms in a variety of different ways. Black Rainbows is the trio's latest offering, and marks a return to the Black Acre imprint. Once again, the drums are awfully important, but the record also finds Dark Sky trying its hand at a few new tricks.
The four-track EP actually begins on a familiar note with the ominous "F-Technology." It's dark, it's stripped down, and contains very little in the way of melody. Sure, a woozy synth creeps into the forefront in the middle of the track, but this one is all about the low end. The song's thunderous, rumbling kick pattern is offset by a skittering array of snares, claps, and other percussive bits, and the whole affair is thickened up by some bassy synths that could have been lifted from a machine-like '80s electro cut. "Tremor" is another drum workout, one that eschews synths almost entirely while rolling out a perky bongo pattern. It's the most fun track on Black Rainbows, and bears an interesting resemblance to Cajmere's seminal "Percolator."
"Zoom" is where Dark Sky really begins to stretch its creative legs. Of course, the drums are on point, but this time around, they've been assembled in a 2-step garage pattern. As the track shuffles along, it quickly becomes clear that this isn't just another percussion-heavy Dark Sky tune. The trio fills in the track with an assortment of ravey synths, steppy melodies, and a dirgy bassline that hints at old-school grime. Dark Sky's productions often contain a healthy amount of white space, but "Zoom" is characterized by its heft and density.
Rounding out the EP is "Totem," a song that's certainly lighter than "Zoom," and, more specifically, finds Dark Sky dialing back the percussion and experimenting with bright, videogame-inspired synth melodies. At times recalling the work of artists like Damu and Hyetal, "Totem" just might be the most colorful thing Dark Sky has ever produced, a tune that blips and beeps while enlivening the dancefloor with its shuffling garage snares. Without question, it's well done and the track is more than functional, but it's also less unique than much of the group's previous output. As such, one can't help but wonder if this marks a new direction or merely a passing flirtation. It's not that exploring new sounds is a bad thing, but the kind of mastery Dark Sky has shown with its talent for drums is a rare thing. It's hard not to hope that stylistic wanderlust doesn't pull the trio too far away from the sounds that made it special in the first place.