James Young and Aiden Whalley were always too intelligent to spend too much of their careers entrenched strictly in underground electronica. Circa 2009, England’s Darkstar was releasing exploratory garage through Kode9’s respected Hyperdub label. As the duo has matured, those creeping bass rolls have morphed into gentle synth-pop. Foam Island might not have the grit and post-industrial edge of those early 12” offerings, yet it is far more impactful.

A crystalline blend of melancholy lyricism, beleaguered melodies, intermittent strings and a foray into indie-electro escapism, the instrumentation is balanced and executed flawlessly, but it’s certainly not revolutionary. Without knowledge of the ongoing socioeconomic struggle in northern England, for which the album title references, it is only the vocal snippets that separate Foam Island from the array of club-influenced British indie-rock that swept Stateside about a decade ago.

The sullen voices at the forefront of “Basic Things”, “Cuts” and “Javan’s Call” aren’t simply pulled from dusty sample libraries or VHS recordings; they are the result of numerous treks through the depressed region of Huddersfield. It was here that the duo immersed themselves into the conversations of disenchanted twentysomethings. Before eroding into the nuanced soundscapes, the clips pulled from these interviews reinforce a narrative of economic and political decline felt across the region.

“We didn’t want to preach,” explained Young in the lead-up to the album’s release. “But we wanted to convey a harsher narrative than we’d ever done before.” While each of the outfit’s two earlier albums also carried geopolitical themes (2013’s News from Nowhere and 2010’s North) the methods behind the Foam Island songwriting sessions allowed for a deeper, more objective viewpoint to evolve. Relocating to London for university (where the two met), the conversations were a jarring reality into the enduring problems of their childhood communities. As “Javan’s Call” insinuates, it’s often difficult to critique the struggle when it is the only existence one knows.

A noble attempt at a “quintessentially British record,” some of the context is lost on Stateside listeners. In short, the northern portions of England have remained a largely neglected region post-World War II, leading to an economic climate and outlook as dim as that in any dilapidating U.S. city. The messages within the politically-charged affair are quite pointed: the whimsical undertones of “Cuts” juxtaposing the drastic austerity measures noted in the audio clips, “A Different Kind of Struggle” outlining the ideological separation among the regions and the psychedelic-pop of “Through The Motions” masking some of the pain felt after the societal ladder has crumbled beneath the enduring depression.

By keeping the music easily approachable, the reach of the prevailing empathy is amplified. As standalone tracks, “Stoke the Fire” and “Pin Secure” are easy to discard as infectious light-hearted pop. As the motifs continue to build across the 12-track release, the ideals of a political renaissance can no longer be avoided. The album comes to a close with the march of “Days Burn Blue” and a suffocating bitterness for the conservative nature of David Cameron’s government. Foam Island is not without its moments of hope. Just as new voices are shifting the narrative in U.S. locales like Detroit and Oakland, the statements courtesy of Javan reflect a positive outlook that is manifesting in the region: “Just because of the people…my friendship group, my family. I do think there’s future here.”

As one turns back to further explore the connection between the interview samples, Foam Island becomes the first text for further exploration into the disenchantment felt across the pond. No matter where one might start this research, it is easy to quickly draw parallels to any nation’s under-served communities. What started as an ode to the forgotten souls of northern England has transformed into a stimulus for all citizens to cultivate their own unique voice of resistance.

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