Darkside – Psychic: Round 55, Nick’s choice

DARKSIDE-PSYCHICOnce again without a theme I was free to choose whatever the hell I liked. Two factors made me pick this super-current release, which had only come out two days before: the fact that Rob, when confronted with Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon for the first time ever the other week, claimed it sounded like “half the stuff in Nick’s record collection” despite my prolonged dislike of all things Floyd; and the fact that I’d arranged to review this record for The Quietus, and was planning on writing it up the next night so needed to get some serious listens and cogitation in!

If you’re unaware, Darkside is Nicolas Jaar, who’s debut solo album I played here a couple of years ago, plus Dave Harrington, a jazz guitarist college friend from their only-just-finished student days at Brown University. This is not, though, just a Nicolas Jaar album with some guitar over the top; Harrington plays as wide an array of instruments as Jaar, and shares writing and production credits with him equally too.

Psychic is every bit as, ahem, phenomenologically beautiful as Space Is Only Noise (and probably less, um, non-diegetic, on the whole), but there’s something a bit more linear, consumable, and compelling about it, perhaps. Maybe it’s the guitars, but I’m not sure they’re quite as important as some people are suggesting; Harrington’s playing on Psychic is a long, long way from John Squire’s on Second Coming, for example. It’s a krautrock linearity rather than a jam band linearity, and thus much more palatable to people who find the idea of Phish offensive, but who can fully accept 20-minute freak-outs if the singer is Japanese and the musicians are German. There’s nothing like festishisation of the ‘other’ to bring out the music fan’s inner hypocrite?

This has arguably been a stonking year for records that sit somewhere in that weird genre-less area that one might call post-dance the same way we called Bark Psychosis post-rock; Holden, The Knife, Boards Of Canada, The Field, Four Tet, Brandt Brauer Frick, Pantha Du Prince, Jon Hopkins, Fuck Buttons, Atoms For Peace if I’m feeling generous. Maybe even stuff like These New Puritans, Melt Yourself Down, and Sons Of Kemet kind of counts on there, too; they certainly all share headspace in my esteem. Darkside have made an album every bit as good as anyone else in that list.

Rob listened: I’d heard this before the meeting, having read a review on Pi***f**k. I liked it. It sounded nice. I’m intrigued by Nicholas Jaar and found his solo album pleasantly enveloping. I wish I felt more drawn to this stuff, as I always seem to enjoy it, but the fact is I don’t. Of Nick’s list above I’m familiar with three or four and  those which draw me back are always the ones which at some level deliver a punch to the solar plexus, i.e. Fuck Buttons or The Knife. There’s something academic about Jaar, Pantha du Prince, Jon Hopkins, or at least I impress that upon them, which puts distance between us. I guess there’s also something around close-listening. These are all lean-in records and I think I prefer to sway back as if dodging a knock-out punch. Perhaps ultimately this is my problem. I sometimes feel slightly inadequate for preferring the music which goes for the throat rather than the brain. I should get over that. It’s completely stupid.

Tom Listened: Last meeting was a strange one. William Basinski’s 5 seconds of music (that lasted an hour – that’s about 720 loops by my calculations…and it felt like it) overwhelmed proceedings to such an extent that the other records played on the night quickly became lost in the ether. The other meeting that felt similar to me was when we played Zaireeka – everything else seemed far too conventional and consequently a bit flat after that record too. However, the two other records from Zaireeka-gate went on to be my albums of the year (Apocalypse and Smoke Ring for My Halo) and if my recollection of the way I felt about the Darkside record (I can’t actually remember what it sounds like, just how I felt when it was being played) was that it sounded phenomenologically beautiful – God it feels great to write that! – and not really all that similar to Pink Floyd. I also remember thinking at the time ‘I might go out and buy this’ but then I thought about all those Smog albums I need to have and recalled that I don’t have any money and then also considered that it sounded possibly just a teensy bit too nice on first listen to really have sticking power and so, for now, I might have to ask that nice Mr Southall for a lend instead.

Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise – Round 19 – Nick’s selection

Another meeting arranged at short notice, and potentially our last of the year as busy familial festive schedules start to kick in. So it made sense to theme it around our albums of the year, even if we didn’t quite know how the logistics of that might work; would we vote and play our three consensus records? Pick our very favourite record each? Would we pronounce a Devon Record Club Album of the Year?

Typically, we were more pragmatic and prosaic than that, and each chose a record from 2011 that we liked a lot and which at least one of the other two hadn’t heard. I went last, debating between Patrick Wolf, Destroyer, and Nicolas Jaar; I picked Jaar’s debut after a comment by Rob that there had been a lot of really good “sounding” albums this year (i.e. albums with good sound, not albums that we’re hearsay suggests are qualifiedly “good”). Jaar’s is the album that I’ve perhaps enjoyed the most on a purely phenomenological level, and when I played an isolated track from it at an earlier meeting everyone seemed impressed and intrigued.

The album itself is a sensuous, aesthetic pleasure; not quite the minimal house odyssey some fans of his early singles had expected, but nevertheless immaculately constructed, captivating and unusual. It occupies a strange nowhere land between techno and jazz and minimal and Germany and South American and east and west; the cover picture depicts Jaar himself, as an infant, in the no-man’s land between east and west Berlin. Despite being a very obviously digital construct, it’s a warm, human record, full of pianos, strings, brass, and voices as well as thrumming basslines and thumping beats.

It starts incredibly abstractly, the opening trio of tracks weaving spoken words in numerous languages and found sound recordings of breaking waves through strange rhythmic patterns and irregularly intersecting waves of sound. The mid section of the record adds more focus and direct intention (while never quite becoming obvious), vocals used as hooks rather than ambience, and beats coalescing into patterns that could almost affect dancefloors, before the final three tracks disintegrate the patterns again, and bring the album neatly back to where it began.

Jaar’s dad apocryphally bought a Villalobos album as inspiration for his young son’s musical development on the recommendation of a record store clerk, after asking for the most cutting edge and accomplished music out there. I’m glad he did, and I can’t wait to hear where Jaar’s strange confluence of muses takes him next.

Tom Listened: This album started off really well for me but faded towards the end. I have been aware of Nicholas Jaar’s name cropping up in the occasional best of 2011 internet list and my interest was fueled when Nick played a song from the album at one of the earlier meetings. I enjoyed the album all the way through, but I did feel it lost impact as it went on and by the end it had become (very lovely) background music for me. I suspect that this would become less of an issue with repeated listens but I’m not sure we’ll ever become that well acquainted.

Rob listened: It’s always a pleasure to hear Nick roll out one of his stock phrases, mainly because they tend to be much more interesting than mine. In fact, my most repeated words at Record Club meetings are, “the interesting thing is…” usually followed by something quite plain. Nick, meanwhile, tends towards interesting compounds like  “phenomenologically beautiful” or, if cornered, “non-diagetic”. The interesting thing is that ‘Space Is Only Noise’ did indeed seem beautiful in cold, precisely defined terms. I could have listened to the tinkling piano accompanied by a gurgling child and what sounded like a German man attempting to master English vowel sounds for about 45 minutes, it all sounded so pretty. Like Tom, I found it palled slightly in the middle, the closer it approximated dance music, but all in all a lovely thing.