Album Review: DARKSIDE - 'Spiral'

The second studio album from Nicolás Jaar and Dave Harrington is upon us. Untamed, biting, intuitive - the DARKSIDE duo show no signs of settling. The Mic's Tristan Phipps gives his judgement on 'Spiral'.

It’s been a long eight years since DARKSIDE gave us Psychic. Since then, Jaar has churned out seven albums, under both the Nicolás Jaar name and the club alias ‘Against All Logic’. Alongside releasing three albums in 2020 (yes, three), he co-produced the majority of FKA Twigs’ impressive sophomore album ‘Magdalene’. Conversely, Dave Harrington has honed his craft, releasing music with the subtly named ‘Dave Harrington Group’ and experimental ambient project ‘Lights Fluorescent’. After eight years away from the DARKSIDE project, how would Spiral pan out?

Whilst opening track Narrow Road is an apt tone setter, The Limit is where the album kicks into life. Previous album Psychic gave us a glimpse into what this duo were capable off, and The Limit firmly reminds us: atmospheric, eerie, but sexy. Strutting snares and soft licks from Harrington’s guitar, paired with a pulsating groove, creates an aura of controlled cohesion I tend to associate with Jaar’s solo work. For a minute, The Limit is very danceable, before the duo disentangle the dance into a disorder of percussion and spliced electronics. An uncomfortable turn of pace, but very on brand.

Starting as they mean to go on, Jaar and Harrington do their best to disconcert the listener throughout. Ditching the falsetto, Lawmaker sees Jaar unleash his alluring lower tones once more with the line “He’s wearing a doctor’s coat / But in his hand is the ring of a lawmakerin what initially sounds sultry, smooth, and again, sexy, but quickly puts the listener on edge with every repetition. With a strong build up of unrefined, raw drums and earthly elements alongside the new mantra of “The crowd is naked on the ground”, the DARKSIDE duo shift the pace to one of vulnerability. With textures dropping in and out, and climaxes nearly impossible to predict, Jaar and Harrington play with the listener, and expertly craft the sense of exposure to match their disconcerting and bare lyrics.

"...the duo play to their individual strengths, forged with the skill you’d expect from a duo as accomplished as DARKSIDE"

An album highlight is the striking I’m the Echo - a prog-rock inspired soundscape combining much of the duos strengths. Without I’m the Echo, the entire album would read differently. It is clear that Jaar and Harrington want to escape being pigeonholed by any means necessary, and on an album that offers heavy doses of the experimental, the trippy, and the mellow, I’m the Echo offers some respite. Fore-fronting some delicious slap bass from Harrington and an array of tight falsetto from Jaar, the duo play to their individual strengths, forged with the skill you’d expect from a duo as accomplished as DARKSIDE.

While their personal visions may have grown more disparate over a long 8 years, the pair do well to push forward an album that feels like a continuation from their previous project. However, at times I found myself wanting something that wasn’t hinted at during Psychic. Spiral, the track, offers little in comparison to the tunes paving the way. Like it or not, Lawmaker plays with interesting themes and evokes a disconcerting feeling. It feels somewhat boundary pushing. I’m the Echo carries bite and swagger, but Spiral tastes mild in comparison: it’s timid. Perhaps this is what stops this album achieving greatness: the rejection of pushing what’s acceptable, and instead coiling back towards previously trodden paths.

"Sometimes an imposing, uncomfortable listen; sometimes meditative, Spiral is rewarding nonetheless."

In stark comparison, Inside Is Out There is a bustling soundscape. Largely lyric-less and pushing ten minutes in length, the track slowly reveals itself to be an album highlight. There’s a strong sense of joy within, and like I’m the Echo, it’s a prime offering of Jaar and Harrington’s chemistry. Anyone who’s ever jammed will understand the pure happiness, the rush of serotonin, achieved by successfully riffing over the top of your friend. You’re on guitar; he’s on keys. You’re in the flow, the wind in your sails, and you feel ten feet tall. Here, the layers stack remarkably high, rarely threatening to topple. Shuffling percussion and purring guitars build and fade, eventually leaving the listener breathless, soaking up the gentle piano line that leads us to the albums finale.

Perhaps not the untamed experimentation you would expect from a DARKSIDE album, but the duo do a remarkable job of continuing the Psychic project. Some fans may be let down by this, but if you choose to actively listen to this fine collaboration, expect yourself to become lost. Sometimes an imposing, uncomfortable listen; sometimes meditative, Spiral is rewarding nonetheless. It might not be your cup of tea, but maybe that’s the point. This is their cup of tea. A unique drink perhaps, but Jaar and Harrington appear content with that.

Written by: Tristan Phipps

Edited by: Elliot Fox

In article images courtesy of DARKSIDE via Facebook. Video courtesy of DARKSIDE via YouTube.