Usually when I think about Grantland, the late, much lamented ESPN sports and pop culture site, my mind dwells on the great weekly scribes they had like Zach Lowe, Jonah Keri, Bill Barnwell and others. But Jonathan Abrams was also one of my favorites. His longform pieces were never less than provocative and his new book reads like a 120,000 word version of them.
In Darkside, a duo with Nicolas Jaar, Dave Harrington, a master of many instruments best known as a guitarist, created some of the most compelling and widely adored electronic music of this decade. “Become Alive” (Other People) is the new release from the 30-year-old’s first solo project—which is billed as the Dave Harrington Group—since Darkside went on hiatus in the summer of 2014. On the album, Mr. Harrington is wending his way back to his roots: the late-’60s and early-’70s experimental jazz that inspired his musical career.
During its brief existence, Darkside produced moody and dense electronic music that was highlighted by Mr. Harrington’s virtuosic work. The band fused dub, prog rock, electronic dance music and elements of jazz fusion into a potent mix. The name of the band recalled the 1973 Pink Floyd recording “Dark Side of the Moon,” and in many ways the sound seemed like an updating of it. Darkside was particularly well received. Pitchfork hailed the band’s amalgam of styles and cited its 2013 recording “Psychic” as one of the best albums of the decade. Darkside’s 2013 remix of Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” was named one of the best recordings of the year by the New Yorker.
“Become Alive” starts with “White Heat,” a brooding track highlighted by keyboards and guitar. It has a pristine sound and glacial pace; no one will link it to the Velvet Underground classic “White Light/White Heat” Instead the tone and mood recall the Radiohead recordings “Kid A” and “Amnesiac” minus the vocals. The second track, “Slides,” maintains the mood but is built from stellar, serpentine bass clarinet lines from John Stanesco. The recording’s middle tracks are more atmospheric and cinematic, highlighted by “Steels,” a solo track featuring Mr. Harrington’s excellent pedal steel guitar work. But the final three pieces—the title track, “Spectrum” and “All I Can Do”—shift gears. The music is less brooding, more narrative in structure and often up-tempo. The title track features 11 musicians and “All I Can Do” has six. With the muscular bass lines, soaring harmonies, and searing solos, the music is reminiscent of bands like the Tony Williams Lifetime and John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, which straddled the divide between jazz and rock in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
As is often the case with a musician’s first full length recording, “Become Alive” is a showcase for the variety of styles and subgenres that Mr. Harrington has mastered. He had jammed around New York, then met Mr. Jaar while both men were students at Brown University. Mr. Harrington grew up in the city and studied at the Harlem School of the Arts with great musicians like guitarist Kelvyn Bell and bassist Brad Jones. He loved the late-’90s Manhattan downtown, especially the music of Bill Frisell and John Zorn as well as vintage prog-rock groups like King Crimson. With “Become Alive,” Mr. Harrington illustrates the vibrance and diversity of New York music late in the 20th century while smartly updating it.
Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.