opinion byBRENDAN FRANK
Nicolas Jaar may have gotten off to an early start, but he’s sure in no hurry to get to his destination. Darkside is a collaboration between Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington, and their work rate is as unhurried and methodical as their music. After releasing a tantalizing self-titled EP in 2011 on Jaar’s now-extinct label, Clown & Sunset, they worked steadily on more music over the course of two years. Co-released on Jaar’s brand new label Other People, Darkside’s full-length debut Psychic takes full advantage of the longer format, allowing the duo’s capacious, krauty minimalism to sprawl out even further.
Psychic troubles itself with the infinitesimal, and ends up celestial.
The album’s recording took place primarily in New York and Paris, interspersed with touring and remixes (most notably Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories), which has no doubt contributed to its markedly relaxed disposition. As the Darkside EP had hinted at, Jaar and Harrington are very interested in the concept of scale, and they take full advantage of the technology available to them to instill a sense of wonder. Psychic troubles itself with the infinitesimal, and ends up celestial. This is thanks in large part to Jaar’s barely-there production style. He combines the organic and the synthetic to create a lived-in world, with a brash cockiness that makes it look like he did it all one-handed. His sounds self-ignite, overtake one another and recombine at imperceptible speeds over the albums eight tracks.
The sounds that make up Psychic's foundation – liquid jazz guitar, microfiltered techno beats, space-radio crackle – are exotic and otherworldly. It’s a dimly-lit, alien journey that constantly beckons you in further. The longer you spend with this record, the more you sink into its depths. The sequencing is immaculate, with genuine songcraft buttressed by blurry ambient techno experiments. Multi-phased opener “Golden Arrow” takes two full minutes to eke in from the void. Even after it announces its presence, it wades upstream with no timeline, an anemic orchestra dragged along by aspirating electronics, with synth-dappled drone and cosmic grumblings superimposed over its gentle pulse. It’s all rather freeform before a languorous, 90-BPM techno beat gives shape to the proceedings.
From there, things almost get accessible. The tribal thump of “Heart” manages to make the Black Keys, B.B. King and Boards of Canada seem like a logical recombination. Singed blues riffs light the way on “Paper Trails”, and Jaar’s uniquely congested delivery easily helps him to overcome some occasionally unsophisticated lyrics (“The grass green but the sun is blue/Better find a way to get through to you”). Five minutes doesn’t seem like enough for either song; Harrington’s lucid musicianship constantly feels like he’s holding something back, just on the cusp of giving it away.
Considering how lean and taut Darkside was, Psychic does feel a touch padded by comparison.
Considering how lean and taut Darkside was, Psychic does feel a touch padded by comparison. And yet with textures this meticulous and rich, it barely registers as a gripe. “The Only Shrine I’ve Seen”, the album's remarkable centerpiece, begins with cultish campfire handclaps before transmuting into a microfunk freak-out, drawing out the tension to amplify the payoff. The same can’t quite be said for “Freak, Go Home”, which, while atmospherically in tune with the rest of the album, relies too heavily on what sounds like a digital synthesizer that wasn’t wired properly.
The second half of Psychic is even sparser and weirder, but it’s all kept in focus by Jaar’s eye for detail as a producer. He’s in complete control of the scenery here. The album’s most emotional moment comes on “Greek Light”, with littoral minor-key vibraphones and a refrain that’s sounds like a subdued temper tantrum. But behind the darkness, Psychic is a relatively light-hearted exercise: Two exceedingly talented craftsmen going for a joyride in their spaceship and inviting you to tag along in the back seat. In the vacuum, light travels at the same speed no matter how fast you’re going. Likewise, Psychic’s gloriously protracted exhales leave you no choice but to slow down and move at its pace. [B+]
Stream Psychic in its entirety at the Other People website.