If Spiral doesn’t quite strike the same welcome murkiness as Psychic, it still suggests future destinations worth following Darkside to.
Darkside, the musical duo composed of electronic producer Nicolas Jaar and jazz guitarist Dave Harrington, arrived as an unexpectedly exuberant affair following the meditative focus of each member’s solo output. After first playing together on the tour for Jaar’s landmark debut LP, 2011’s Space Is Only Noise, and later releasing an EP and a ghostly full-length remix of the revanchist Random Access Memories, Darkside released their proper debut Psychic: a dorm-room psych-rock staple whose eight songs wandered through gaseous expanses until suddenly snapping into gratifying focus. The subsequent Darkside tour — immortalized on last year’s Psychic Live July 17 2014 — punctured the on-record haze of Psychic with more tactile renditions that fully realized the group’s rhythmic potential, delivering thrills reminiscent of a particularly sweaty jam session or an extended club mix. It was also the last time that the duo had worked together in that mode, with Harrington’s subsequent releases conjuring electrical storms far busier than Darkside’s more svelte runway, and Jaar’s forging — and then rupturing — connections between various sub-genres of electronic music and the natural world. Even after the announcement of Spiral, the new Darkside album, it seemed possible that Psychic (and Darkside) would remain a footnote in the oeuvres of both artists, a moment of unlikely synchronicity.
Any doubt that Spiral could recapture the magic of Psychic was dispelled by excellent pre-release singles “The Limit” and “Liberty Bell,” both of which moved and grooved with a gait somewhere between a strut and a zombified lurch. Spiral proves consistently adept at recreating Psychic’s more direct, groove-driven moments, though these early tracks were still something of a feint, with the album proper also serving up piercing dub (“Only Young”) and churning acoustic laments (“The Question Is to See It All,” “Spiral”). Spiral’s more forward tracks also embellish the group’s core sound in unexpected ways, as on opener “Narrow Road,” which begins with a cluttered cascade of clicks and whistles before a bass groove swoops in and accompanies the song’s locomotive percussion tumbling down a hill. Elsewhere, deep cut “Inside Is Out There” grinds and hums with varying degrees of urgency, rippling through nocturnal moods until arriving suddenly upon piano-driven reprieve, evoking the relief of a journey’s end. In a release stream Q&A with Stereogum, both Jaar and Harrington described their jam-centric creation process in navigational terms, comparing their process of improvisation to following a roadmap. It’s certainly an accurate description of the experience of listening to Spiral, and if some sense of mystery is lost in emerging from the fog of Psychic, the group’s improved sense of directionality is nonetheless welcome here, as they confidently traverse familiar terrain towards destinations still unclear.
Published as part of Album Roundup — July 2021 | Part 2.