Darkside – Psychic
Matador / Other People
After a rather forgettable three-song EP, producer Nicolas Jaar and guitarist Dave Harrington team up once again for their debut album, Psychic.
The journey into Harrington and Jaar’s ambient world begins with “Golden Arrow.” Its slow, varied build, lasting a total of 11 minutes, may not be a casual listener’s favourite song, but its importance to the album as a whole is immeasurable. Not only does “Golden Arrow” act as an apt introduction to the atmospheric album, it also gives insight as to where Jaar is heading as an artist. Harrington’s experimental guitar riffs, jumping back and forth from bouncy to mellow, complement Jaar’s organ-like production, creating a perfectly full and haunting sound.
The album hits other high points with “Heart” and “Paper Trails,” both featuring a mix of soft, feel-good guitar licks with airy vocals and synth. Shortly after, the album loses its momentum. “Freak Go Home” is similar to “Golden Arrow,” although it lacks a sense of direction. To be fair, there are brief redeeming moments within the song, but, as a whole, it doesn’t keep up with the rest of the album. In fact, it’s not until the very end that Psychic proves itself to be one of the strongest albums released this year, tying up all loose ends with its poppy, echoing beats. The song “Metatron” concludes listeners’ short visit into the duo’s minds in a nicely satisfying way.
Psychic takes listeners on a journey, one that is sometimes lively and sometimes dark and unpleasant; as Jaar puts it, “the project’s called Darkside for a reason.” Psychic attempts to pack so much into a short time, triggering conflicting emotional responses within a single song, which may leave some feeling a little disoriented. This album may not please all first-time listeners, but for those who give it a chance, it’s an experience worth having.
Lazer Kitty – Moons
Described as a Seattle “experimental-improvisational-space-rock trio who make soundtracks for the cosmos,” Lazer Kitty’s newest album Moons is nothing short of ethereal. The trio’s soundscape, inventive and textured, illustrates a cosmic sound infused with full bodied swells of synth punctuated with a crashing wash of cymbals.
Transporting listeners into the dark caverns of space, Moons feels like floating in zero gravity as breathtaking nebula swirl before your eyes. The album, sound-packed with a crossfire of synth waves, puncturing drums, and heavy bass, is designed for the fantastical mind. Although initially alienating, Moons grows increasingly more mesmerizing with each listen. The rippling instrumentals are mysterious and hypnotic, the abstract synth noises wander and rove, but not without intent.
From beginning to end, Moons offers a kaleidoscopic eccentricity. Opening with “Hyperion,” the extraterrestrial vibes launch into a funky melody – an eight minute escape into a galaxy far, far away. Guiding us into a lyricless space odyssey, track melts into track. “Dino Wipeout,” as the title suggests, has an ominous vibe, the guitar sombre but ending on a calming note. The celestial mood combines a progressive rock rhythm that tinges “Pilgrimage” with indie psychedelic undertones and strikes a mystical groove in “Titan.” But, with other tracks on Moons, the band has deviated far from anything resembling a straightforward song, which leaves tracks like “Luna” and “Io” resembling something of a thought experiment. This album is most certainly for the audacious but earth-bound listener, with moments of cohesion, but leaves more to be desired in terms of substance. The music doesn’t demand our attention, but it is these unfocused elements of Moons that make for perfect background, catering to a crowd that can appreciate the intangible yet abstract quality.
Blue Sky Black Death – Glaciers
Glaciers’ first track, “I” (Blue Sky Black Death is anything but creative with its track titles), plunges listeners right into its own world with a slightly cheesy 1980s-soundtrack-gone-dark sound. Sporadic vocals and echoing sound effects make Glaciers’ sound, like its cover art looks, eerily intriguing. At times beautifully engaging, Glaciers is an album with highs and lows, a compelling musical exploration that fails to reach as far as it could.
Blue Sky Black Death, hailing from Seattle, Washington, is a production duo composed of Kingston Maguire and Ian Taggart, better known, respectively, as Kingston and Young God. The duo is known for their unique artistic process, mixing live instrumentation and sampling to create a multi-genre, layered sound. Glaciers, their fourth album, has a musical fluidity reminiscent of Montreal-based art rock band Braids and electronic legend Burial, an intricate bubbly pop meets ambient dubstep.
The duo provides soothing ambient instrumentals, with echoing vocals that can be a touch overdone, like on “II.” “IV” features vocals bordering on the lackluster and repetitive, but redeems itself with textured instrumental layering – pretty much as pop as ambient electronic music can get. With only one of its five tracks under ten minutes, Glaciers lives up to the immersive goal of ambient music, sometimes to the point where a listener might actually forget they’re listening to anything distinctive. Only in “III” does Glaciers’ much-heralded hip hop sound truly take centre stage, giving the track a stronger rhythmic backbone. In fact, “III” is the album’s strongest track, combining the rest of the album’s light ethereal instrumentals with a solid bassline and vocal hip hop touches. Turning up the hip hop influence a notch higher would have given Glaciers the chance to flourish that much more as an explorative electronic album. As it is, Glaciers risks falling through its shaky foundation.
The This Many Boyfriends Club – Die or Get Rich Trying
Whatever happened to reverb? The alt-rock music of the 1980s and 1990s was dripping in the stuff. Sometimes it was used to dreamy and decadent effect by shoegaze and dream pop acts like My Bloody Valentine, sometimes to create avalanches of sonic aggression (see every grunge act ever). These days, listeners looking for layers of swirling fuzz to swaddle their ears generally steer toward the electronic end of the Pitchfork spectrum, where echoing, distorted synths are thick on the ground. But there are those that prefer their drone old school, originating from guitar strings rather than computer keys.
For this particular flavour of music geek, we have The This Many Boyfriends Club (Cas Kaplan, Andrew Miller, Lara Oundjian, Veronica Danger Winslow-Danger, and Evan Magoni, among them two McGill alumni and one current student), who clearly seek to revive the ancient age of reverb. The early 1990s indie-rock scene is writ large across their new EP Die or Get Rich Trying, in the intertwined boy-girl vocals, the burbling rumble of the bass, the alternating roar and jangle of the guitars. This is especially evident in the endearingly cluttered quality of This Many’s arrangements – everything seems to overlap a bit, as if each instrumental track is racing the others to a song’s finish line. At times, it seems that the band’s musical intake is entirely limited to the years between 1988 and 1992.
While This Many’s focus could be called narrow, there’s no questioning the fact that they know their little corner of the pop music universe exceptionally well. They’ve nailed the Pixies’ stop-start dynamics on opener “Alright,” and “The Swan” is essentially a slightly shouty My Bloody Valentine track with a bit of chugging guitar on the verses for texture. They manage to effectively straddle the reverb divide, using noise to channel punkish angst and ambient melody. Get Rich Trying clocks in at a skimpy 10:41 for five tracks, and it’s unlikely to garner a terribly wide audience. But anyone looking for alt rock nostalgia is going to find just the shot of adrenaline they need