On his debut, Nicolas Jaar believed “space is only noise if you can see,” a discovery he seemed to be working towards at the time. Darkside, his collaboration with touring guitarist Dave Harrington, had similar intent to “walk into the fire” on their 2011 debut EP, but never prevailed to uncover what presided behind the blue flames. Now 23 years old, Jaar realizes that he’s still searching for that vision, attempting to provide a motive for dancing that’s both unconventional and strange, and so he’s struck up the bond with Harrington again. The two commenced the evolution of this supernatural personality with this year’s Daft Punk re-imagining, Random Access Memories Memories, an experiment that took something religiously perfect and brought it into a lo-fi underworld of attractive flaws. This style of disintegration illuminates their proper debut full-length, Psychic, in which they’ve achieved such genre-bending ambitions by offering precedence to the elements that linger in an uncomfortable state. Most notably, the sustained silences, the jarring sequences of genre roulette, the sheer fright of burning down and picking it back up again. It’s an effort that not only highlights both Jaar and Harrington’s individual talents, but also how, together, Darkside can create a work of genius.
In scheming the mad experiment, they show that there’s nothing to hide. While other electronic records plug into their most accessible moments as soon as the needle drops, Psychic drifts into a dreamy, translucent, six-minute psychosis that teases the listener’s patience. “Golden Arrow” continues with the duo making their share of mistakes and wrong turns before landing on a recognizable beat. It’s a glimpse of being backstage, in a sense: Jaar pans left and right as he cycles through a multitude of instrumental voices, attempting to find the perfect posture to match Harrington’s palm-muting, the guitarist test driving an array of riffs before returning to simplicity. Sweeps of violin reverberate almost imperceptibly, without really honing in on animation behind the crackling fuses. Initially, the mix leaves everything lost in confusion. But, when it all comes together, the balanced equation of trembling bass, electronic fist fight sound effects, and wired guitar punctures bursts with clarity. Harrington’s vocal exclamation, “You don’t know now/ not the same/ as what I do now,” shows that Darkside are aware that this sort of dance is completely new.
For a while, Darkside continues to rave with “Heart” and “Paper Trials”, the tracks including a vocal lead from each musician that becomes more prominent as the tracks progress. Each collaborator takes from an opposite spectrum, one pinning falsetto and one casual bass vocal, but lyrically focus on demurring destruction. Harrington is a bone-crusher, retaliating against conventional music with questions like “What do I look like to you?/ What did you want me to be?”, while Jaar leans closer to creature comforts, lyrically composing a Van Gogh-replica of a wooden house on a mountain paired with “fruit on the table” and “a baby to care for.” In the end, both want fleeting pleasure to burn up in flames, cued by the “fire outside/ it’s burning up the place.” While it was nice to gain some understanding and composure, they’re yearning for more.
Psychic‘s second half works as a safari of uncomfortable movement. All those easily digestible schemes are destroyed, leaving one’s imagination to travel alone through their demonic heaven. Their vocals become ghostly figures, lingering softly on the foundation until they sporadically reappear with frightening repetition and lyrics that will haunt your dreams. They fuck around with their momentum relentlessly, panning funky guitar slaps into ambient silences abruptly. For example, “Freak, Go Home” erects the most contagious groove of the whole record, but instead of playing out for mere enjoyment, Harrington rips it to shreds with prog-guitar distortion, which is frustrating for those that would like to sway nonsensically. Instead, they encourage listeners to embrace the array of mood swings your body conquers: airy dissonance, uncontrollable excitement, wondrous confusion. Dancing is now a complete experience that explores more than just the surface, as minds are expanded four-fold from its mental challenges, bringing the physical practice to an explorative high.
Instead of Chic’s “Freak Out”, Darkside say “Freak, Go Home”, announcing genre revisitation as a complete waste of time. Swan song “Metatron” warrants taps to dead genres and proves creation and recreation to be key of masterful music. “The world, it seems, you care about” requires familiarity, but the duo finds more appeal in dissecting each layer and enlightening both innocent and violated qualities. They’re challenging listeners to look at music and dance with a completely renewed lens, to forget what was normal and move on with an urge to protest what’s formulated. Admittedly, that’s a frightening and difficult feat, but also unforgettable once accomplished. One might use the same descriptors for Psychic.
Essential Tracks: “Golden Arrow”, “Freak, Go Home”, and “Metatron”