First Listen: Darkside, 'Psychic'
Darkside is a new project led by Nicolas Jaar, a precocious young electronic-music producer who's invested in the virtues of patience, deliberation and investment itself. Unlike others at play in the chart-climbing upper reaches of EDM, in which the immediate rewards of bombastic bass-drops reign, Jaar has devoted himself to taking great care (sometimes too much) in every aspect of what he presents. That applies to the tangibles of what he puts into the world — see: The Prism, a proprietary device released in the form of a custom brushed-aluminum cube with two headphone jacks and something to say about communalism, objecthood and physicality in a changing media age — but it manifests most convincingly in his sound. He's invested in developing a singular style and letting it evolve over time.
It's been nearly three years since Jaar made his name with his breakthrough solo album Space Is Only Noise, which makes the presentation of Darkside an event. The premise for Darkside is similar to that of his past work — Jaar at the controls, plus collaborator Dave Harrington on guitar and other sundries — and the sound of Psychic follows suit, with a patient persistence that pays off in peaks pitched for the dance floor and lots of expectant, exploratory wandering in between. The album-opening "Golden Arrow" plays like an 11-minute mission statement, with suggestive ambient electronic sounds orbiting around an unstable center; eventually, a beat arrives, though it takes its time to build and coalesce. Electric guitar adds accents in muted riffs heavy on the reverb, while vocals hover above in processed tones as if sung by some mercurial crooner.
That six-string thing not often enlisted in electronic music proves prominent. For better and worse, "Paper Trails" suggests what might happen if the guitar in Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" sneaked out in search of a more timely style to haunt. For better and better alone, the second half of "The Only Shrine I've Seen" plays like an early B-52's party jam spun at an intriguingly slow speed. Otherwise, the sound palette of Psychic (out Oct. 8) draws on what comes across as lots of warmly played keyboards and tactile electronic textures that surround everything and make all the disparate parts cohere.
With the overall sound situated, Jaar keeps his hands free to play with his truly individual sense of rhythm. Drums tumble and thump throughout — see especially "Freak, Go Home" — and always in subtle ways that shift and swerve and slowly, steadily build until rhythms reach a frenzy without ever really signaling they were on the rise.
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