Darkside – Psychic
Released: October 7, 2013
Producer: Nicolas Jaar, Dave Harrington
Genre: Electronic, Experimental, Microhouse
01 Golden Arrow
04 Paper Trails
05 The Only Shrine I’ve Seen
06 Freak, Go Home
07 Greek Light
I don’t want to sound like a cliche because Nicolas Jaar himself said that he wanted to shed his reputation. Being only 3 years older than me I don’t really understand it but still, I need to say something about him. And I’ve found the perfect summary: The Chilean-born, Brown-educated electronic wunderkind, Clown & Sunset label head, serious artiste behind BBC’s Essential Mix of 2012, musical cubes, and a 5-hour MoMA performance in a geodesic dome! That’s quite a C.V. In this album he teamed up with his long-time friend and classmate Dave Harrington under the moniker Darkside; which I don’t think need further reference. Their full-length debut Psychic is built under a black-lit atmospheric aura which seems to be endlessly explorable. It seems Jaar has a lot more tricks up his sleeves, considering the armada of work he’s done and at just 23 years old.
Though they did have a self-titled EP back in 2011, their progression this year makes me feel that they would like their true debut to be their rework of Daft Punk‘s Random Access Memories. It seemed more than a study of Daft Punk‘s music than something pleasant but it still caught your attention through its genuine, if self-serving, benevolence. Psychic and Daftside might serve the same purpose, both guided by artistic reverence and crackpot scheming, but hearing something this amazing and original in 2013 is something to behold.
On the first 11 minutes of Psychic, during the mammoth of a track “Golden Arrow”, Jaar and Harrington desperately try to remember and reconfigure the basic principle of music. Then the heartbeat pulse appears serving as a basline while the rest of the track plays of into the distance which I would assume is something really close to space rock. Over all that noise you can faintly hear a cello and some digital disintegration. Then, about four minutes, the beat drops. A bit Italo, a bit synth, microhouse, a bit of palm-muted funk guitar chords and a lot of pot! And just when you think you’ve heard it all, Harrington comes in and gives us a stunningly beautiful falsetto and makes you wonder. Do these guys know where they’re going with this?
To create an album as great as this, of course they have! But, at the same time, there are no ground rules, or previous ground to build on for that matter. Darkside are, in now way, recreating anything. The bass, the shadowy guitar chords and even the lamented blues on “Paper Trails” are all breaking new areas, that can only be reached by someone like Nicolas Jaar. There is no way, a player exists out there that can conjure the percussion heard on “The Only Shrine I’ve Seen”; the impossibly lush layering of cymbals, snares, bells, and claps joining the hands of church choirs, marching bands, and Buddhist monks. And then, Harrington comes along with his blues-box guitar soloing to give the pieces a touch of human midst all this retrofuturism Jaar creates.
Psychic is full of something some people might call extra terrestrial atmosphere. But, it’s not all about ambience. In the 45 minutes this album stretches the silence is sometimes essential to the listening. “Golden Arrow” is a gargantuan track after all and to register all that Darkside give us “Sitra” which serves as a mild disorientation before they decide to sink us once again into their dimension. And that’s “Heart”‘s purpose. A tribal, sort of unsettling piece that prepares you for what comes next.
After “Heart” comes “The Only Shrine I’ve Seen” which blows off any tranquility you got from before. And that’s just Side A. Side B explores some of Jaar’s own thoughts and idars about dance music. “The Only Shrine I’ve Seen” and “Freak, Go Home”, again, add some alien elements to entire concept of dance music. You have to reinvent the entire living space of a person that might dance to this. Almost all of Psychic is devoted to the rhythm section and its careful balance between acoustic and digital percussion. Though Psychic is the kind of immense and immersive experience typically described as “monolithic”, Jaar and Harrington ensure it’s more like the bubble gracing its cover—translucent and dense, electrified and organic, holding a form while constantly being prodded into new shapes.
Dangerous ground though. Because when a record spends so much time reveling around pure sound you might yourself asking: “Where did the human part go?”. That’s where Jaar comes in on “Paper Trails” saying “I want a house to live in/ Baby to take care of,” though in that voice of his, you never expect him to mean exactly what he says. And that’s tottaly understandable, not getting in touch with the albums feelings, wanting to stick to its title. But maybe that’s just what it is. If Harrington and Jaar want to make some kind of contact, if any at all, with us they want to do that in some telepathic sort of way. Evoking new senses, new realities, and new feelings. Though the psychedelic density and classic rock touchstones of Psychic are ostensibly a negation of Jaar’s breakthrough, the quizzical, minimalist Space Is Only Noise, reconsider his intimidating biography and all of a sudden, Darkside makes a ton of sense, establishing connections between listeners and genres rather than pronouncing differences—people dance to Ricardo Villalobos, start record labels because they want to make music with their friends and, yes, Ivy League kids like to get stoned and listen to Pink Floyd. At least for the duration of Psychic, everything under the sun is in tune.