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The Spiral Liam Inscoe-Jones , July 23rd, 2021 08:04

Nearly a decade after their last album together, Nicolás Jaar and Dave Harrington have been jamming in the woods and the results are surprising funky – even rather fun, finds Liam Inscoe-Jones

It’s been eight years since we last heard from Darkside, the occasional collaboration between pioneering Chilean electronic wizard Nicolás Jaar and American multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington. Over the years their sole album, 2013’s Psychic, started to look even more like the rare oddity it always kind of was; the melding of a guitarist and an obtuse DAW composer which explored ambient and funk and yet still somehow fit like a glove.

Darkside seemingly permanently de-convened to pursue their own solo work, with Jaar especially becoming one of the most respected electronic musicians of his generation in the interim. But now, out of nowhere, they’re back. The reason? They’re a jam band. Apparently, when the two heady artists want to kick back and unwind, Darkside is where they go. Indeed that’s what happened with Spiral. Harrington and Jaar renting a place in Flemington, New Jersey in 2018 and laying down the core of the album in the space of a single week.

To be frank, it’s sincerely hard to imagine how either musician “jams". Harrington’s guitar solos feel patient and considered, while Jaar’s style is one of meticulous craftsmanship, of tones and timbres which unfold like a shattering pane of glass, in a manner which feels intricate and, well, planned. To my ears, the songs here still feel like detailed, unfolding odysseys rather than studio happenstance but, no matter their method, the results catch lightening in a bottle, again.

There are obvious reference points, from the noodling electronica of Autechre and the fricative guitar work of Faust’s Rudolf Sosna, but Darkside remains a sound unto itself. At times it feels like The War of Drugs clashing headfirst with Luomo, which isn’t a comparison I can imagine making anywhere else. The world of rock leaks into Spiral more than it did on the airy Psychic; Harrington is a louder presence, and the ‘The Question Is To See It All’ and ‘Only Young’ boast choruses which are surprisingly McCartney-esque.

But there’s also the funk. ‘The Limit’ and ‘Liberty Bell’ surge with a toe tapping funkiness which is exciting and dense. For all of the wonderful qualities of Jaar’s music, “fun” is rarely one of them, so on ‘I’m an Echo’ it’s a joy to hear Herrington erupt into a shrill guitar vamp which sends the whole song into a spin. Jaar gets his revenge of ‘The Limit’, plunging the a steamy rhythm into a cold bath of fricative percussion which would fit nicely into one of his own records, and it’s a relief that they’re still happy to get weird.

The album’s tone reflects the strangeness of it’s cover; there is a certain haunting quality, influenced no end by the eerie whisper Jaar sings in, and the choral vocals which decorate many of the tracks. As with all of Jaar’s work, there’s a mythic quality at play which sounds at once baroque and psychedelic. Centrepiece ‘Lawmaker’ is an epic, which choral vocals which wouldn’t be out of place scoring an Indiana Jones set-piece, until it erupts into desert blues.

It’s music which shatters easy genre classification. Is it “art-rock”, is it “electronica”? The joy of an album like Spiral is that it’s impossible to say.