by John Cheesman on October 15, 2013
Posted in: Album Review, Electronic, Music, Rock
So, while it’s been available to stream online for a while, Darkside’s new album was officially released exactly one week ago. Darkside is the collaboration between Nicolas Jaar, blogosphere-dubbed electronic wünderkid, and guitar prodigy Dave Harrington, and while the two genres that these Brown University classmates represent may seem disparate, don’t write off the duo just yet. Each time these two work together, or at least each time so far, they create brilliant music. From their 2011 eponymous EP, through their rework of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories in the middle of this year, and now onto Psychic, the two prove that these seemingly distinct genres can be molded into a cohesive, if perplexing, whole.
In a lot of ways, Psychic seems to focus on the welding together of these two elements, and it uses this fusion as its energy source. The guitar, as well as the other live instruments in the mix, retain a space for themselves distinct from Jaar’s electronics, that is, they remain distinguishable and adhere to a different type of arrangement. And yet, while each musician remains separately identifiable, it is the interplay between Nico’s knob twiddling and Dave’s strumming that creates the moments of tension, and the subsequent releases from those moments, that give this album its momentum. Over and over again both the analog and the electronic components of these tracks demonstrate their reliance on one another even as they prove themselves warring elements. The synth bass line that comes in just before the 2 minute mark of “Paper Trails” initially seems like an alien invader in the otherwise largely analog mix, but then serves as a major driving force and a necessary transition just as the guitar picks up. The post-industrial combination of robo-windchimes and synthesized clap/stomps in “The Only Shrine I’ve Seen” build up to an anxiety inducing electronic circus before they give way to almost-disco guitar and drum lines that sound oh so much better when they emerge from the roughage. The analog and the electronic elements in Psychic are constantly competing, constantly reacting against being forced together. And yet, even while their competetion remains essential, each of the disparate elements in the album are accepted as equal by the music: rather than a simply cacophonous attempt to pair square pegs and round holes, the album is the documented cohabitation of differences that are allowed to be differences. The competition is friendly, and the album/referee (is this a lame metaphor?) ultimately calls a tie.
There are moments throughout Psychic that sound like someone turning the knobs of a radio, unable to settle on a station. It shows up first in the opening five minutes of “Golden Arrow” as Jaar and Harrington meander a bit before closing in on the album. It’s present again in the last minute of “Freak, Go Home” which moves through genres and styles in a rapid succession of peaks and valleys. It creeps up one last time in the clicking and white noise that repeats in “Greek Light” (is that a tape deck being loaded and played? A home movie starting?). These subtle sounds serve as tiny little meta moments; almost like an admittance from Darkside that the album can’t and won’t settle on one style, on one genre, one station, one thing. But the whole, finished narrative that we, the listeners, receive from this disjointed channel surfing is still a beautiful one, and still, somehow, makes perfect sense. Testament to the genius of these two amazing artists.
Further read with cool info on Darkside, and on Jaar’s creative process:
Also this youtube video the duo performing “Paper Trails” live. The two are perfectly in sync and yet entirely in their own heads. Also Jaar is just some sort of crazy octopus sponge: