There is an inherent danger to being a Nicolas Jaar fan. I’ve touched on it before. For every banger, there’s a clanger; for every face-melting mix or innovative rhythm, there’s a groan-inducing inaccessibility and frowning tedium… we know this, but there was always a safety net: DARKSIDE.
DARKSIDE was where Jaar let rip. I place the emphasis on the ‘was’—now I suspect it may be Against All Logic. Jaar is a transient artist (the type that can always prove to be the most beguiling and rewarding, but equally the most frustrating). I suspected that DARKSIDE co-conspirator Dave Harrington might have been a mediating force, pushing Nico into ‘tune’ territory where his tendency may have been to loiter around an extended jam… but I was wrong. The Spiral LP, now some months old, marked the re-emergence of DARKSIDE as a self-proclaimed ‘jam band’. No, please no, I thought to myself before listening, but it is indeed the case.
Where Psychic conveyed all of the propulsive thrust of a duo keen to impress their next-level talent upon an eager and attentive early fan base, Spiral brings languid noodling that is powerfully evocative of pandemic-induced tedium but—for precisely that reason—is not something one necessarily wants to listen to!
Nothing in this album is offensive; it is harmless. I’ve listened to the album many, many times at this point and feel it serves one important use case: it’s music you can put on when you have something boring to do and feel vaguely depressed, but only marginally so. It is uninspiring music for uninspired moments.
Subsequently, there aren’t many high points in this album. Nor are there any particular low points. Lawmaker and Liberty Bell were released as singles with good reason: they are the two vaguely upbeat moments in an otherwise meandering body of work. I could also attempt to highlight some other moments in the album I liked, but feel it pointless in that they are only highlights in context, and the context is not good. Perhaps the plodding rhythm of Only Young could be considered worth a passing listen, but certainly not a long-term musical relationship.
This work is one of Jaar’s duds, and it is a great shame to have it released as a DARKSIDE project, as it is safe to say this album can be skipped. Jaar is doing more interesting things with the A.A.L. moniker today. If you listen to one track from this record, go for Liberty Bell. It was released as the first single for good reason. Otherwise you can take it from me: this album is not worth exploring. It offers scant aural rewards for the time necessary to fully digest it.