February 15, 2011
Review: Nicolas Jaar – ‘Space is Only Noise’
Nicolas Jaar – Space is Only Noise
Keeping up with the splintered genres and sub-genres of electronica can be a thankless task. Its stylistic range is wide – from brash, dense club-fillers to considered, polymorphic productions – and often one end is unrecognisable from the other. It has stomped its muddy paws all over areas of indie, folk, funk, jazz and back again, cross-pollinating and blurring boundaries along the way. It’s at one of these musical intersections that Rhode Island-based Nicolas Jaar operates, plying his trade in creative, beat-driven music for the contemplative among us: equal parts organic and electronic: a stylistic cousin of atmospheric techno producers such as Isolée, and the rootsier sound of Caribou or Lukid. ‘Space is Only Noise’ is his first full-length release, following up a slew of EPs and remixes that demonstrated a more insistent minimal-house sound to this set.
Although unquestionably ethereal in ethos and practice, ‘Space is Only Noise’ persists with dry, unprocessed rhythmic elements that provide an immediacy both attractive and refreshing in their opposition to the spacious sonic swamps of chillwave. The interlude of ‘Sunflower’ crumbles out of the speakers, tickling the ear canal on its sedate journey into the brain, while ‘Colomb’ combines warm layers of bass and keys with a simple handclap beat and psychotic-yet-not-unsettling vocals; auto-tuned and sporadic. Snatches of vocals and misplaced dialogue – in various languages – jut out at irregular intervals throughout the album, and an overriding sense of unease exists both in the nature of their delivery and the dissonance that their juxtaposition creates.
‘Too Many Kids Finding Rain in the Dust’ is driven by stabs of offbeat keys taken direct from the Pole sound bank, with disconcerting strings jarring their way through a mid-song (nervous) breakdown and an almost Morricone-esque guitar outro. The layer of nervous tension still threatens to break through the acapella introduction and cacophony of horns on ‘Keep Me There’, its four-to-the-floor sensibilities picking up the pace from the previous lull, while ‘I Got a Woman’ manages to take a snippet of one of Ray Charles’ most raucous cuts and reposition it within a meditative, detached trip.
Although the (scarily) young producer is based in the USA, his sound is sourced from an altogether global pool of musical influences. Suffering the combined aural assault of Mulatu Astatke and Erik Satie at a very young age, as well as a spell in Santiago, Chile’s musical centre, meant that Jaar’s brain was already operating on multiple musical planes by the time he began to produce at the extremely tender age of 14. The compositional maturity on album highlight ‘Balance Her In Between Your Eyes’, a delicate, slow-building reverie complete with dissonant vocals lines, suggests the work of a much older and more experienced author.
Jaar throws in a pastiche of ‘80s synth pop at its most disturbed with the album’s title track, following it up with the stuttering, beat-less ‘Almost Fell’; Four Tet-like in its displays of micro-looping. ‘Variations’ is a chopped-up blues, its scraps of vocals shuffled and strewn across a pulsating acoustic guitar rhythm, before closer ‘^tre’ provides a thematic bookend to opening track ‘Être’, soft piano phrases drifting along amid crackles of static and the distant sounds of children at play.
‘Space is Only Noise’ may not have the accessibility of some of Jaar’s previous, more unfussy tracks (‘El Bandido’ and ‘Russian Dolls’ spring to mind), but that’s not to say the album is a challenge: far from it. Rewarding from the outset, and suggesting further depth with each listen, it’s exciting to think that this is a producer at the very start of what looks to be a potentially fascinating career.