LABEL Other People / Matador
RELEASE DATE 8 October 2013
10 | 10
Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington began the Darkside project while in the throws of a world tour supporting Jaar’s exquisite 2011 release Space Is Only Noise. That album played a key role in defining the Chilean-American producer’s sound, finding its footing in sparse, minimal production that made what you didn’t hear just as important to the overall emotion of the song as what you ultimately did hear. As inviting as a second dose of minimalist electro would have been from Jaar, what he’s been able to do in collaboration with guitarist Dave Harrington far exceeds any of his previous material, creating what is at this point both artists’ magnum opus.
Jaar and Harrington first premiered Psychic in a performance space in New York’s Lower East Side, inviting fans and journalists alike to partake in the listening experience. Such a setting for an album premiere, as well as the assertion that this was a group effort, not a solo endeavor, already subtly implied Psychic was going to be more beat and song-oriented than the sonic soundscapes explored on Space Is Only Noise. And true to it’s image, the impact of both artists is felt throughout. On “The Only Shrine I’ve Seen,” Harrington’s affecting guitar work moves Jaar to explore his more upbeat impulses, and the end result is some of the most kinetic music Jaar has put his name on to date.
“Heart” has an assertive pulse similar to that of the organ its name comes from. It’s unquestionably one of the two most immediately rewarding songs on Psychic, with the other being song of the year contender “Paper Trails.” Ultimately though, the album isn’t concerned with showing its hand all upfront. The scope of the record is large in scale without being derivative in the slightest. This is music that was destined to be huge, not at all a forced play from a band starved for the limelight; it’s much more the sound of two guys who just happened to make gorgeous, subtly epic work. That’s not to say this is an accidental work of genius. The time spent in recording Psychic is made evident through the sprawling production, with every sound meticulously placed with purpose. Jaar’s vocals, decidedly inaudible thanks to their reverb-soaked hue, come in-and-out of frame, delivering choice soundbites at opportune times, mainly leaving the listening experience in the hands of the duo’s abilities as instrumentalists.
Psychic’s songs range from five to eleven minutes, with a couple of shorter cuts bridging the gap and holding this whole thing together. Most albums presented in such a way, with sprawling run times demanding that the listener take in the music with the whole picture in mind, easily fall under the weight of such pretenses. Fortunately, Jaar and Harrington have done their homework, and have presented us an album that wastes no space; a remarkable feat for an album that begins with the 11-minute trance epic “Golden Arrow.” When first uploaded to YouTube, Jaar and Harrington labeled it as “the first 11 minutes of PSYCHIC.” That initial decision to premiere “Golden Arrow” as the opening minutes of a full album experience as opposed to an official lead single helped cement the notion that Darkside was looking at the big picture when recording Psychic, instead of attempting to creating rewarding, yet ultimately disposable electro-pop.
And that big picture is glorious. By fully understanding the boundaries they were working within, Jaar and Harrington are able to fill in every detail within the boundary. Songs organically evolve from quiet rumination to club-ready proclamation and back again. Such is the case on the aforementioned “Shrine,” as well as the deceptively inviting “Freak, Go Home.” It does indeed start rather freakishly, with a haunting vocal sample as well as other vocal distortions, and even some interstellar synths buzz in for a few seconds before leaving the party. But then a propulsive beat comes in, beckoning the listener to dance along. A sinister synthesizer comes in a little later, ushering everyone off the dancefloor.
Altogether, these songs end up acting as chapters in a larger novel. There is a beautiful melody lurking in “Greek Light,” which will surely show itself during the inevitable covers it will inspire. That they can compose something so beautiful, but offer it up in such nonconventional means, directly showcases how exciting music can be, and it doesn’t even need to hit 120 bpm. The album closes with “Metatron,” which like “Paper Trails” before it, features an indelible blues lick from Harrington, giving life to the cold and desolate soundscapes provided by Jaar. The blues-oriented nature of these tracks, courtesy of Harrington’s subtle, effortlessly cool performance, is truly what makes Psychic stand out among its contemporaries. Jaar and Harrington, working as Darkside, have made a definitive statement about their musical talents with Psychic. And they were able to do so with not much more than a whisper and a pause. Sometimes all that needs to speak is the music.
- First Listen: Darkside, ‘Psychic’ (npr.org)