Starkey's second LP Ear Drums & Black Holes exaggerated the skyward-looking nature of his ambitious instrumentals but was weighed down with a number of vocal tracks (as ever with mixed results). Six months or so after that album's release on Planet Mu, the Philadelphian producer embarks on a series of EP releases for Civil Music that see him not so much regressing as playing to his strengths.
Space Traitor Vol. 1 almost makes it seem like Ear Drums never happened, hearkening back to the mostly instrumental flourishes of his debut Ephemeral Exhibits but with a meaner edge. Opener "Robot Hands" does a demented skip before breaking out into the kind of stomach-churning melodies that Starkey has established himself on: where so many other American producers hijack the midrange frequencies for harsh wobbling basslines, Starkey uses the same spectrum to bolster his pop-calibre melodies.
For the rest of the tracks, Starkey notches up the drama—orchestra and all. "Playing with Fire" and "Holodeck" are a natural pair, taking flight with bombastic orchestral sections and woodwind flourishes. But it's "Paradise"—Starkey's second collaboration with vocalist Anneka after "Stars"—that is the EP's shining star. Seizing on the cinematic pomp and placing the orchestral samples in a lilting, balladic template, Starkey unwittingly constructs one of the most gut-punching and brutally emotional tunes of his career with only creeping strings and delicately tickled piano. Anneka's vocal is lovely, vacillating between sweet siren and arch regality just as Starkey's rather complex melody shifts from lilt to graceful ascent.
The EP's digital package is rounded off by six remixes, most of which are superfluous—perhaps needless to say, a masterful pop number like "Paradise" need not be remixed—though there's something to be said for Egyptrixx's typically dive-bombing remix of "Robot Hands" and Ital Tek's earthy rework of "Playing with Fire." But the EP's five original tracks reaffirm Starkey as one of the most lovably idiosyncratic producers to emerge out of the nebulous dubstep field, one with uncommon and uncanny melodic prowess.
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Tracklist: Starkey - Space Traitor Vol. 1 A1 Robot Hands
A2 Playing with Fire
B2 Paradise feat. Anneka