- Two years ago, Dave Harrington and Nicolas Jaar broke up their band, Darkside. They still make music on their own, of course, and Harrington has been helming improvisational sessions with ten friends, including Jaar, on and off for years.
Like Darkside, Become Alive moves fluidly between genres, but at its heart is abstract rock with notes of jazz and electronic flourishes. (Avant-garde jazz artist Colin Stetson seems to influence the sound design and impressionistic use of space.) Harrington & Co. use instruments that sound strange and disjointed together but perfect on their own, the result of clever—but at times annoyingly exaggerated—arrangements and manipulations. Sounds are stretched, muted or warped, and not always cohesively. On "Slides," the valves of a saxophone aggressively open and close, but the instrument's musical performance sounds far away. The distance between the mic and the sax is spooky and palpable, and the room's airy static takes an equal, if not greater, presence in the mix.
At its best, Become Alive can evoke Pauline Oliveros's idea of "deep listening," in that its extended meditations seem to put you in the room with the musicians, appreciating the breadth of their process. When the method works, it's easy to enjoy the environment the music is played in. All of the sounds, musical and nonmusical, feel beautiful and celebrated. But Become Alive rarely finds such a balance, more often running down wild tangents to follow malformed noises and bad guitar solos. On the title track, wild guitar playing reaches jam band levels of inane complexity. Album closer "All I Can Do," with its prominent use of jazz flute and noodling basslines, sounds like a nondescript talk-show band.
Since Become Alive came together after its formative sessions, there's little sense of Harrington's original music. The album is overproduced and polished to a fault, often vague and uninteresting. It's the defining characteristic of Become Alive. The individual performances are undeniably full of flavor and complexity, but put together they can overwhelm.
01. White Heat
03. The Prophet
04. Cities of the Red Night
06. Become Alive
08. All I Can Do