Darkside - Spiral - Track By Track Review

Ville Saarni
Ville Saarni Music Reviews

For the friends of: Iosonouncane, SaffronKeira & Paolo Fresu, Tinariwen
Genre: shoegaze, psych-rock, art rock
Year: 2021
Country: Chile/US
Favorite track(s): 'Narrow Road', 'Lawmaker' and 'Spiral'
Emoji: 🌚
Random words: desert wind


'Darkside' is a duo between electronic musician and producer 'Nicolás Jaar' and Brooklyn multi-instrumentalist 'Dave Harrington'. 'Nicolás Jaar' is also making music with multiple different aliases. There are even some mysterious artist names and people in internet forums who are pondering which are his works. Personally, I am most familiar with his material which he makes with his own name, 'Darkside' and with another alias 'All Against Logic'. The easiest way to make a difference between these three names is 'AAL' being the most danceable, having club sound in it while 'Darkside' having a lot of organic sounds and some indie/shoegaze vibe in it. It is also the easiest to approach even though it is mixing many different genres together.

Material released with his own name 'Nicolás Jaar' is many times pretty ambient and experimental stuff. 'Spiral' is the second album by 'Darkside'. The debut album 'Psychic' was released already in 2013 and was hyped by the critics. 'Spiral' has not gathered much praise but for me, it's easily one of the top releases of 2021. The reason behind this might be that I did not have any expectations since this was my first touch to 'Darkside'. Let's dig into the tracks.


Track by track review:

'Narrow Road'
The first detail that I noticed was the very beginning of the track. It reminds a lot of 'ALL's opening track 'Fantasy' from the album '2017-2019'. The sound and tempo are slightly different but still, there is a lot of resemblances. It would be interesting to know if this was intentional or not. Otherwise, the beginning of the track works pretty much like an intro to the album and the actual track starts soon after 1,5 minutes. 'Narrow Road' builds a clear picture of how the album goes on. It is a combination of organic percussions, electronic soundscape and different types of guitars spiced up with airy vocals. The beat is also very interesting being same time catchy but not very straightforward. I really enjoy this kind of contrast which you hear quite rarely. The slide guitar is very emotive close to the end of the track.

'The Limit'
The change between 'Narrow Road' and 'The Limit' is very smooth but after a small intro the track picks up some pace. There are many very cool details on the drum track while the bass is building a simple bass for other instruments being pretty simple but strong. There are a couple of parts that are a bit more experimental but otherwise, the track is quite catchy with the melody sticking to your head.

'The Question Is To See It All'
Once again the change is so well done. I really like the acoustic guitar in the beginning. It is pretty raw reminding the listener of the organic touch which goes through the whole album. The clattering beat is rather hypnotizing reminding a bit from African American Spiritual songs. It is very clever how the beat is built to lean only on the bass and some clattering percussions. At some point, this track also reminds me of 'Danger Mouse' production with a certain psychedelic vibe and some retro/vintage sound. The ending of the track stopping pretty much immediately is a brilliant choice. 

'Lawmaker'
This is one of my favorite tracks of the album. The tinkling bells are very clear in the beginning and continue with the same spiritual feeling putting the listener into even deeper hypnosis or a monastery. The rhythm of the vocals is pretty cool after the beat starts. Besides spiritual music 'Lawmaker' reminds also from Tuareg music like 'Tinariwen', especially at the end of the track. 'Wovenhand' is also something that this track slightly reminds me of. The long guitar solo on top of the ongoing beat is simple but suits the track very well. One of my favorite moments is when the beat comes back again after the break. This track is definitely a great example of 'Jaar's production skills combining different elements together.

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'I'm The Echo'
The hypnotizing continues. This track is almost like a continuation to 'Lawmaker' but bringing some light to the soundscape. The bassline in this track is probably the best on the whole album. The vocals remind slightly from 'Rhye' but otherwise, the track does not sound like his music. It is interesting how the track balances between being dark but having some moments of light at the end of the tunnel. The guitar line is one of the clearest in the whole album except for the very ending. The short solo is also quite nice before the end solo. In a weird way, this reminds a bit of 'Jungle' with the groove, vocals, and soundscape. The guitar solos on the track are quite special.

'Spiral'
Wow! This is pretty much a perfect track for me. This might even be one of the best tracks of this year. In a way, it is very simple, but the whole soundscape and the vocals mixed to be clear create a very interesting world where the listener is sucked in. The acoustic guitar is again pretty raw, sounding almost like it was just one take and that's it. But that is also the magic of the song. Listening 'Spiral' makes you stop everything, close your eyes, and breath slowly or not at all. The bassline is also brilliant, playing big part of the whole track. The melancholic, emotive, and beautiful feeling with the vocals combined with the acoustic guitars remind a bit of 'José González'.

'Liberty Bell'
This is one of the fastest, most danceable and easiest to approach of all of the tracks. The beat is like a train that stops only before the short solo at the end of the track. 'Liberty Bell' is also one of the tracks with most vocals and maybe the most organic of all tracks with just some small electronic details. It is not a bad track at all, but if I would say a track that I like the least, it would be this one. But this said, I still have never skipped 'Liberty Bell'.

'Inside Is Out There' 
All tracks are relatively long, but this is clearly the longest track being more than 8,5 minutes. It builds up the track quite long, but there is still some variety not being too boring. The guitar jumps in jamming with the piano while drums and bass are keeping everything together. The best moment of the track is when the cymbals kick in making the track sound much more massive but quite quickly disappearing taking it back to the jamming.

'Only Young'
If you would put 'Alt-J' and 'Black Keys' together you would probably get something like 'Only Young'. The guitars are the most traditional of the whole album without any special effects having even some blues-rock vibe at places. Especially the guitar solo reminds me a lot from 'Black Keys'.  'Only Young' is also one of the easiest to approach, not having any big surprises or experimental moments. Because of this, it is also the most different track and it is good that it's put after the long jamming of 'Inside Is Out There' and is the last song of the album.

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Listen to "Spiral"


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