On “Psychic,” electronic musician Nicolas Jaar pushes the boundaries of down-tempo house music. The album marks the debut of Darkside, a duo composed of Jaar and guitarist Dave Harrington. Jaar and Harrington collaborate to create an album that sounds strange, original and introspective without being entirely iconoclastic. Instead, “Psychic” presents a darkly chilling yet deeply nuanced world that reveals something new with every listen.
Darkside formed while Jaar and Harrington were touring together to promote Jaar’s debut album, “Space is Only Noise.” With their first EP, they established a slow, experimental sound. In their collaboration, the two complement each other perfectly, with Harrington’s grooves adding weight and substance to Jaar’s sublime, minimalistic textures and ambient noises.
“Psychic” does a fantastic job of creating a completely immersive soundscape. Textures build on one another to create tension and a sense of claustrophobia before pulling out, leaving the listener with a sparse beat, a monotone drone or ambient noise. These minimalist moments are probably the most interesting parts of the album. After the minutes of building tension and complexity, they leave the listener with a feeling of infinite space, like peering over a cliff and jumping into a cold, dark abyss.
Still, at times it seems like some of the traditional elements Darkside uses are out of place when combined with electronic experimentation. Jaar uses experimental sounds and effects nicely in 'Golden Arrow' to create a unique experience. On the other hand, the effects in 'Paper Trails' sound cheesier when combined with the surprisingly predictable guitar lines and Harrington's almost mockingly bluesy groans. In Darkside's style, Harrington’s low mumbling and Jaar’s high wailing sound a little forced and out of place. It's possible that the album would be much stronger without vocals. Additionally, Harrington’s bluesy lines and Jaar’s occasional Latin rhythms are skillful, but in the context of the album, they seem out of their time period.
Overall, “Psychic” is a step in the right direction for modern house music. It takes advantage of present-day technology to create an experience that would not be possible otherwise. The album is best listened to with headphones on; not to keep your friends from hearing your strange, slightly disturbing music, but to hear every layer of sound that Jaar and Harrington piece together. After listening to the album, it’s an obvious oversimplification to call Darkside a house duo. Their goals are set higher than any particular genre, and in the future they may be able to find the potential that electronic music can achieve.