Darkside's 'Spiral' Mourns the End of the World — and Celebrates What We Still Have Left
Published Jul 19, 2021A funny thing happened on the way to Darkside's return from hiatus. After all, Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington announced that the band was "coming to an end, for now" back in April 2014, less than a year after their breakout LP, 2013's Psychic. Seven years and countless global calamities later, the duo return with the record no one expected them to make — a warm, woodsy and acoustic-tinged odyssey about the end of the world. If Psychic was the sweaty come-down from electronic rock's moment back in the early 2010s, Spiral is a soothing balm to nourish and recalibrate all the trauma since the last party ended. More simply, it's a campfire jam session for the apocalypse.
With six of the nine tracks written in 2018, it's unbelievable how well this record flows and holds together — and that's without even mentioning how prophetic the tracks have proven to be over the last three years. Written from a small house in Leni Lenape territory (present-day Flemington, NJ), many of its songs hint at authorities ignoring (or causing) the world's imminent climate change disaster — like on the single "Lawmaker," where Jaar croons bitterly, "Winners have their fun while their kin have their back / 'You're making no sense' said the man before it all turned to black."
Other tracks, like heavy opener "Narrow Road" and the psychedelic-tinged "I'm the Echo," call back to the darker flavours of Darkside's previous work, but with added notes of Gregorian chanting and fluid, rubbery guitar playing in Eastern modes. Different global influences add to this swan song for our natural world.
While eulogizing what we have lost, Spiral finds Jaar and Harrington (and likely a few session musicians from the New York scene) celebrating what we still have. The album is groovy, yes, but it's also drenched in sounds from the natural world. Hints of bird song, a live drum kit, insects buzzing and softly strummed acoustic guitars all lend a warm touch to the bittersweet themes.
At a time when seemingly every artist is creating work about the horror of being trapped indoors, Darkside want to change the conversation. On the slow-burn climax of the record, "Inside Is Out There," a fragile groove slowly swells with twinkling synths and melodies, until a heartbreaking but short vocal performance glides over everything, sending the song into a cosmic coda. Human tension builds and builds, but the only relief, if the record is to be believed, is to enjoy what is "out there." We're not meant to stew in our own anxieties, boxed in by four walls indefinitely. Darkside don't want to dwell on these dark times until we lose ourselves completely; they're grateful, refreshed and awake to the reality out there. Spiral is the album tentatively, patiently inviting us back into the natural world we come from — where we are still needed. (Matador)