When a musician decides to form a group or duo after an exciting career, or even start a side project, it’s practically impossible to not compare it to the works they’ve done. We all thought of it when you read this. Whether it’s Dave Grohl in Foo Fighters, or Thom Yorke in Atoms for Peace, the original work lingers with the artist. Nicolas Jaar was somebody I didn’t believe would survive in the destructive business of music. After a solid 2011 release with Space Is Only Noise, I did not believe it could be replicated, nor should be as it would feel too forced. Oddly enough, during this time frame Jaar was working on another project with fellow touring guitarist, Dave Herrington, and they formed the duo Darkside. Combining the electronic tension of Jaar’s studio work with the organic sounds found in the live performances, they eased their way through recording the finally released Psychic album.
I usually stay away from reading reviews until I have my own opinion, but I stumbled across a mixture of positive and negative. I feel as though this album has been misjudged by both sides. One critic said it resembled the unasked question of, “What does Nicolas Jaar and Eric Clapton sound like together?” To me, that’s a dumb comment. I can see the resemblance, but I would honestly be intrigued into what the combo would sound like. Psychic does branch off from the usual spectrum Jaar likes to take, but the eerie and tense atmosphere sticks with the listener. The monster opener, “Golden Arrow”, clocks in at just under 12 minutes. There’s more excitement in these 12 minutes than the 46 in Space Is Only Noise. While comparable, Psychic could appeal to a different audience that wasn’t content with the prior release by Jaar.
These eight tracks have their distinct moments that clearly separate one from another. The minute and a half lingerer “Sitra” is completely different from the following track, “Heart”. They fit together like a puzzle piece, but the following song reminds me of an abstract brit-pop tune. The addition to Herrington’s guitar allows for these odd, but compelling moments to flow smoothly. At the core, these are electronic dance tracks, but from the listeners perspective, they come across as very experimental at times. The structure to them, although quite simple, is hidden by Jaar’s need to keep the beat slower. Some songs, like the closer “Metatron”, fall into ambient territory. That’s the beauty of Jaar’s experimental side. He’s able to flip the listeners perspective of genres and how they fit together.
Going back to the Clapton comment, I hear it the more I listen, but still I wouldn’t consider it bad. Psychic does embrace Herrington’s bluesy guitar licks, but they don’t create a blues feel. I have more of a Jon Hopkin’s Immunity sound in mind. That’s probably due to the fact that both albums are released in 2013 and they have eight tracks. Besides that, there’s really nothing in common. What Psychic does carry that surprised me is Tom Wait vocals that aren’t sung by the man himself. At first, it was hard to swallow these raspy vocals, but the more I listen, the more I understand how it pieces together with the ‘blues’ combination.
What captures my attention with each listen is the other strange additions that Jaar included. I feel like there are many different versions of songs that were made over the two years it took to record. Should there be more guitar? Is the beat hidden enough? Do these vocals sound like noise enough? I bet none of these questions were asked, but I began to think about how these two completely different musicians came to a solid conclusion about their contributions to Psychic. Up front, it sounds like a Nicolas Jaar album. Behind the scenes it feels like Dave Herrington may have had more of an influence. There’s multiple ways to look at this album, whether you hear the blues or the electronics, they oddly fit together nicely to create an album that will be more enjoyable as time went on. Even I was hesitant with my first listen.