Darkside – Psychic

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Nicolas Jaar is a musical genius. And never have this been clearer than on Psychic. As part of Darkside, Jaar lets loose in other ways than on his restrained electronic solo creations. It’s not even worth calling the music of Darkside as electronic music. Together with his long-time friend and fellow Brown student, David Harrington, the duo creates something considerably more earthbound than Jaar’s solo efforts, by exploring the dynamic exchange between organic and synthetic textures, and the result is closer to 70’s  progressive rock and disco than one might expect.

It’s somehow fitting that the duo created an entire remix album out of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, since their music works mostly in similar ways. They use the foundation of electronic music, but shapes the layers by (consciously or subconsciously?) looking back to some of the most eclectic and progressive records ever made. Whether singular tracks recall some notion of a Pink Floyd, Can or a Tom Waits record or whether Nile Roger’s disco guitars are haunting in the background, hardly matters. There’s no nostalgia or standards Jaar and Harrington imitates. This is not a record that refashions or celebrates a specific era in music. All those superficially obvious influences are all morphed and shaped into unconventional and innovative creations, and the term “retro-futuristic” makes a whole new sense on here.

The music of Jaar’s solo creation often explores the concept of texture inside a minimalistic production that bares a certain risks of becoming an endless dreary exploration of atmospheres, but this almost never happens on Psychic. Alone, Nicolas Jaar’s music may sound a bit secluded and reserved, and I always felt that he could benefit from outside forces to stretch out and identify grounds outside of his enclosed, self-contained aesthetics. Yet with Harrington beside him, Jaar’s atmospheres and textures are given meaning in whole other ways. Yes, sound is very much crucial here, but it’s explored in ways that are exotic and fresh, and it’s done where the songcrafting is never neglected.

Not everything is genial, and as soon as it gets closer to the environment of Jaar’s solo work or fellow Chilean Ricardo Villalobos techno aesthetics, momentum is lost. But when Harringon’s Floydian guitars are let to roam free, they give a fluently dynamic purpose to Jarr’s structural principles, and what otherwise would feel robotic and static is given life with analog instrumentation. Except for the phenomenal 11-minute opener, “Golden Arrow”, the most accomplished compositions are the once that are comparatively straightforward; “Paper Trails”, “Hearts” and the exceptionally gorgeous album closer “Metatron”, are reasonably light-hearted creation that is as close to ‘pop songs’ as Jaar ever created. All features Jaar’s haunting vocals in one way or the other, whether it’s in a falsetto or in a deep baritone voice, there are moments here, as on “Golden Arrow” and “Metatron” when his vocals are in absolutely harmony with whatever instrumentation is backing it up. These moments are indeed the most glorious on the album.

Psychic works as a proper album, where each song, whether closer to techno or prog rock, puts on a new costume and explores different grounds – grounds that are mostly untraveled before. Regardless of length, every track is methodically placed and purposely designed, without following any ground rules or preconceived notion of how dance music should sound. Just like Daft Punk did earlier this year (and has mostly done during their two decade long career), Darkside reimagine what is considered “ok” to put in an electronically based composition,  and it’s not totally out of context to claim Psychic as sort of a middle ground between Random Access Memories and The Dark Side of the Moon. On tracks like “Heart” or “Metatron”, the Floydian impressions are especially notable, but ultimately you can make the same connection by taking any major 70’s prog rock outfit and a techno producer akin to subtleties and claim it to be the albums chief influences. The point is that Psychic manages to clash these two seemingly different opposites and shape it into something entirely new. Sure, Jamie XX and James Murphy’s DFA has built careers by fusing dance music with rock, but never in this sort of way, never with these influences. Jaar and Harrington has found a place, where space is just as important as noise, that is solely their own.

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