It’s perhaps a bit reductive to think of Dave Harrington’s solo debut in terms of Nicolas Jaar, but I’m hard pressed to find a better descriptor for Harrington’s Become Alive than a phrase like Space is Only Noise. On Become Alive, Harrington equates the two—letting space (silence) and noise work in tandem to create an album both of its time and an ode to avant-jazz of eras past.
When I spoke with Brian Allen Simon about his Anenon project, one of the most intriguing points of our discussion revolved around Simon’s approach to composition, and how vital a role manipulation played in his process. Harrington and his revolving cast of musicians approach similar territory on Become Alive, using fragments of recorded material to shape the album’s aesthetic.
Opener “White Heat” is full of subtle tweaks: the keyboard is quiet, the cymbals rattle, and the occasional choir voice squeaks through the blissful ambience. Much of Become Alive functions in this way. It moves at a glacial pace, but this slow unfurling is less antagonizing than it is mesmerizing. This is an album for a particular mood, certainly, but the way Harrington wildly varies his sounds while staying within a specific, focused theme let’s the album feel both cohesive and expansive.
The album’s first half—essentially from “White Heat” through “Steels”—focuses on establishing this particular atmosphere. “The Prophet” is a percussive joy. Clicks and clacks riddle a barren landscape of distorted synths. This and “Cities of the Red Night” are the closest any Darkside fans will get to a reunion, although Harrington strips these tracks of the infectious melodies that make Darkside’s 2 AM coke-funk work. Harrington’s music is all pulse and feel, experiments in sound design and control.
The album’s centerpiece is the title track, a nine minute exploration of whatever the hell Harrington feels like exploring. It’s easy for such a freely moving album to become disjointed and lose itself in that very attempt to find itself, but “Become Alive” displays the sort of precision that all great experimental music latches onto. On the track Harrington’s horn yelps above Miami Vice style guitar solos and vibraphones. The drums cascade in fury and the whole thing rises and falls again and again until Harrington decides to shut things down and the track just ends.
It’s a wild nine minutes and the best distillation of Harrington’s vision. It’s wholly focused in untethered madness, adherent to its structure of a structureless base. And it’s in this weird ether of contradiction where Harrington does his best work. By the end of Become Alive you’re more than familiar with it.