Dark and brooding electronic music is not difficult to find, but electronic musician Nicholas Jaar has managed to stand out from the pack with his cerebral, beat-driven style. Jaar along with jazz bassist Dave Harrington make up Darkside, and the project signals a new, more varied approach for the musician. Electronic music, particularly intelligent dance music, or IDM, is often obfuscated by nature, but Psychic manages to attain greater heights by being dizzyingly eclectic.
The album is a mixture of dark synth tones, looped electronica beats, and psychedelic guitar. These main elements blend well in songs like opener “The Golden Arrow,” which despite its 13-minute length and looped drum patterns, manages to viscerally surprise several times.
Jaar possesses a rare talent for atmosphere, and most of the songs manage to be cerebral yet danceable, while somehow simultaneously permeating dark tones. Jaar has obvious skill, but Harrington is the real star of the album. The spine of the best songs, such as “Paper Trails,” lie not in Jaar’s precise beat crafting, but in his deep, in-the-pocket funk guitar and bass. Even the best electronic musicians often sound like they’ve given up a bit of their humanity to machinery, but Darkside sound definitively like a band.
Jaar forgoes his usual obscure vocal samples largely in favor of a distorted, nearly falsetto version of his voice. Nostalgic, neo-retro electronic music has certainly been trendy this decade, but few artists dive as eagerly into such a funky sound as Darkside. If Psychic expresses yearning, it is for a strange future rather than an ideal past. The band sounds like almost no artist making music right now, which would not be so positive if the music were not so addictive and exciting.
The tone of the album is varied yet accessible, as anyone could find a catchy synth-chord, guitar solo, or funky beat that merits replaying the song ad nauseum. The album’s final song “Metatron” brings many of the disparate elements of the record together with a patiently building interaction of synthesizer, guitar and vocals that leads to perhaps the best climax on the entire album.
The album is filled with many singular “wow” moments that may not be noticed until a second or third listen. Jaar succinctly described Psychic in a recent interview with NPR’s Rachel Martin, stating, “We want (Psychic) to be a nice-looking house. We want it to be like a friendly looking house with a nice door. And then once you come inside, you realize that there are some strange things happening inside the house.”
Jaar and Harrington have managed to craft an album surprisingly close to that description, and hopefully this is only the beginning for this funk band from the future.