Listening to atmospheric music in a car at night has always been one of my favourite things, as a little kid it was how I really got into Jean Michel Jarre and latterly I’ve had memorable trips to the sounds of Jim Jones Revue. As a 43 year-old I don’t tend to drive around at night blasting my tunes very often, but this week my son has rehearsals at school until 10 every night and so, picking him up and bringing him home gives me about 45 minutes of night driving and I know just the right LP to soundtrack it, Darkside Psychic. A great record from 2013 that I sort of completely forgot to include in my Best of 2013 post, despite really rating it and playing it loads that year*. Oops.
Darkside were** a collaboration between the guitarist Dave Harrington and electronic whizz-kid-arty-dude called Nicholas Jarr. Floyd referencing name, lengthy atmospheric suites underpinned by bubbling beats, an occasionally pessimistic air and some rather nifty guitarage, all wrapped up in an enigmatic sleeve, depicting what I take to be an embryonic frog – what’s not to like? This is definitely head music, buying Psychic is to get an invite to get on down with your amygdala at a mean juke joint down Temporal Lobe Road. This is spot-on perfect music to listen to in a darkened room, equally great in a car of course, preferably under sparse street-lighting, preferably in slanting rain with the bass turned way up. Okay, time to get off the fence and so I will stop being all coy about it, I like this LP.
My favourite track is the 11 minute opener ‘Golden Arrow’, which encapsulates all that is great and clever about Psychic. In a manner reminiscent of a certain crazy diamond, this track has the luxury of being able to wiggle waggle for a few minutes, fully exploring the bass register, building momentum carefully and slowly before properly steaming ahead. Well, by ‘steaming ahead’ I mean finding a gentle groove that propels you almost stealthily towards the point where the treated, falsetto vocals kick in^. You end up completely ensnared and enmeshed in the track without realising it at all. ‘Golden Arrow’ is a real contemplative beauty and there is some guitar hidden in there too.
This is by no means the only trick on show here, Darkside do keep dishing up some interesting combinations. I am very partial to ‘Heart’ which allies a vocal that reminds me of Green Gartside to some drum heavy pop with some lyrical guitar playing. I know I have possibly made it sound like some Frankenstein’s monster, disparate genres and tropes held together with duct tape, plastic ties and paint, but that is just not the effect here, ‘Heart’ has been beautifully blended and rendered as a polished whole; which goes for the album in its’ entirety. Another real favourite, ‘Paper Trails’ illustrates this perfectly, this is the closest we get to a conventional song here, guitar led with mushmouth vocals it is very bluesy it puts me in mind very much of Underworld’s, mighty, ‘Blueski’.
I think Psychic is probably one of those albums that will get rediscovered by generations as yet unborn, potentially post-apocalypse when scavengers trying desperately to rebuild the remnants of civilization stumble across my vinyl, thus ensuring that both I and Darkside get the worshippers we deserve; although to be fair they probably need it far less than me, having done like successful stuff, and stuff, so future generations if you only have enough adoration left for one of us, do the responsible thing, never mind all their immaculate soundscapes, sinuous grooves and pulsing ideas.
But I digress, shitloads. There are textural thrills aplenty to be gleaned from ‘The Only Shrine I’ve Seen’ and the percussive ‘Freak, Go Home’, which strays into Portishead’s home turf slightly – one of the only direct musical comparisons you can make here. ‘Greek Light’ actually jars you out of any easy listening complacency that may have set in here, it actually sounds like standing on a hill in the morning sunlight, surveying the silence and devastation of the apocalypse beneath you – beauty born of unease^*, the discordant vocals make the point here. The last track, ‘Metatron’ is a swelling, delicate concoction, all gossamer-thin melodies and shy beats, carrying with it a sense of its own collapse; potentially an embodiment of Darkside’s make-up?
On Psychic, Darkside serve up a great, slow-burning glistening night ride of an album. It is that clichéist of clichés, a journey from start to finish, a trip. I would recommend it totally for anyone in search of (inner) space and remember, there is no Darkside of the moon, it’s all dark really.
PS: Here’s Darkside strutting their live stuff on a rooftop, with the coolest backdrop for a gig ever – PLUS – the very last track is simply an incredibly cool cover of Sabbath’s ‘Planet Caravan’, worship the cool:
*just like War On Drugs last year, liked the LP, listened to it a lot, then completely forgot they existed on the day I did my list.
*they aren’t an ongoing concern anymore.
^think Sting at his squeakiest.
^*On the other hand I may simply have been playing way too much Fallout 4 recently.