I want to talk about a relatively unknown two-piece recommended to me by my good friend Josh Goulding. The name of the band is called DARKSIDE. Having recently attended one of their live shows Josh immediately recognized their brilliance; and after telling me about them, their atmospheric jams would come to haunt my mind for weeks to come (in a really good way). They are a band responsible for crafting an electronic sound unlike anything I’ve heard before. DARKSIDE is the collaborative union between New Yorkers Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington, two young Ivy Leaguers (Brown) who bonded over laptop songwriting in hotel rooms. Together they birthed an album (their debut LP) that pushes modern guitar rock in a direction yet unexplored by what few champions of the genre still exist (Radiohead, Kurt Vile, The Kills, and Muse to name a few). The name of that album is Psychic (Matador, 2013), and despite its quiet downtempo veneer, Psychic roars as a bold and promising statement of what can be achieved by the inevitable union of rock ‘n roll and electronica.
Psychic can perhaps be best described as a minimalist “indie” (God I hate that term) rock experiment that places a refreshing emphasis on groove and atmosphere over vocals/lyrics. The album’s vocals are often times unintelligible, with hints of MGMT-esque psychedelia at times. Rather than serving as sonic focal points, vocals are merely decorations adorning the LP’s eight captivating, pad-riddled soundscapes. The lyrics are obviously not taken seriously, which is totally fine given this endeavor of music.
The album kicks off with “Golden Arrow “ abducting the listener into an alien starship dreamscape laced with four minutes of static, scratches, and cyberpunky synths- all tied to the droning of a soft bass kick. Then suddenly the fog dissipates, and the listener awakens to a tight dance kick that eventually leads into a subtle, muted rhythm guitar jam. What follows is an icy cool A minor arpeggio in the distance. A flowing bass groove takes over as these frantic little tremolo strums ring out from above. At times the track almost sounds as if were written for the late 90’s video game Unreal Tournament (a compliment).
The album breaks its stiff upper lip and loosens up with “Heart”, which hits with a badass, simple-as-hell blues guitar riff, shitty tone, and followed by these wonderfully precise hits of awe-synth. A couple cool interval slides follow (the thing Keith Richards does on Wild Horses) accompanied by some unintelligible vocals and lovely atmospheric keys. The track is somehow able to sound both massive and small at the same time.
“Paper Trails” (personal favorite) is a lighthearted blues number with a brilliantly catchy riff on repeat throughout the track. The tone is again simple, probably recorded off a Vox or Fender amp. It’s a basic riff played imperfectly, but it just sounds perfect (kind of like Stephen Stills’ middle-finger-waving guitar solo in the beginning of CSNY’s “Ohio”). A simple bass walk provides an open canvas for a few minutes of cleverly played blues quips which culminate at 3:35 into a tight little bend played and then re-sampled into the background as Jaar’s synth takes us into space.
The danceable, borderline funky “Only Shrine I’ve Seen” starts out with a few minutes of clap-chant drone that eventually evolves into a steady compressed dance kick. Halfway in, the track is set ablaze by a funk guitar riff that sounds so creamy and slick it feels robotic-but it’s entirely real. “Freak,Go, Home” continues the album’s dance movement with a super cool Thom York-ish bass/synth groove that crescendos and fades as if swimming in a wavepool of psychadelia.
The emotionally devastating “Greek Light” hits out of nowhere and takes the album to its lowest, darkest place. It’s a brutal three minute meditation of pure tragedy, brilliantly accented by the rhythmic oscillations of some kind of soulless hospital machine. An unintelligibly silly voice accompanied by eighth-note hits of sparkle-synth give the song a trace of light-heartedness. I sometimes find “Greek Light” too emotionally overwhelming to listen to, but it is undoubtedly the album’s most beautiful moment.
“Metatron” is the smooth comedown after “Greek Light”, confidently anchoring the listener back into a warm and safe embrace. Harrington throws down another simple reverb-drenched guitar lead in between little funk strums on the “and” of the beat. Jaar then joins in with triumphant blasts of synthesizer at all the right moments. The track cleverly closes under a lo-pass filter as the song’s signature blues riff fades into oblivion.
As a wannabe amateur musician myself, Psychic is the album I’ve always fantasized about making. I must admit that I both love and hate DARKSIDE – love them because they made brilliant music that immediately enhanced my life, but hate them because I am jealous they made this album before I could (and will probably never will).
Psychic by DARKSIDE is a brilliantly paced and articulated statement of minimalism, atmosphere and groove. The kings of subtlety and nuance, Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington are two Millennial electro-rockers doing it right