Tuesday, April 12, 2011

NICOLAS JAAR: Space is Only Noise

Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only NoiseOn his debut album, released earlier this year, Nicolas Jaar creates caverns like King Tubby, sputters kicks and clops like Flying Lotus, sings like a young Leonard Cohen, samples soul voices like RJD2, plucks at pianos like Max Richter, cyberneticizes like Kraftwerk and locks organic sounds into electronic grids like Ricardo Villalobos. These reference points are handy, but misleading. This is a cohesive suite of tracks that all sound like Nicolas Jaar; playful and patient in wide open spaces. It's a lazy record; not artistically lazy (Jaar's ingenuity is obvious), but relaxed and dreamlike. When you were a kid, did you ever play outside first thing in the morning? That feeling of still-heavy eyelids and dawning possibility is what it feels like to listen to Space is Only Noise.

What roots Jaar most firmly in the "electronic music" camp is the way many of these tracks are structured according to the addition and subtraction of layers. Like Legos, each element is designed to fit with every other element. Jaar's pacing is uncanny, never hurried, never tedious, and when something new is added it is not just an insular earworm - it alters what is already present by subtly shifting context. During "Keep Me There" a piano part cycles and cycles, and when an extra sprinkling (of three simple notes) is dashed in, the original piano cycle is suddenly new again, changed by its relationship with the surrounding elements.

This isn't just a series of loops and grids, though. Not only does Jaar play some lilting live piano (meticulously edited, it seems, but basically live) on "Sunflower" and the two similar tracks that bookend the record, he performs some bona fide pop songs (the whimsical "Problems With the Sun" and the monochrome neon synth-pop gem "Space is only Noise if You Can See"). It’s a testament to Jaar’s big-picture cognizance that these tracks sit so nicely alongside things like the marshmellow synths on "Colomb" and that vocoded Demis Rousso soundalike crooning through "Balance Her In Between Your Eyes".

I hate this guy a little, because he's only 21 and this record accomplishes everything I've tried (with a tragic lack of success) to accomplish in my own paltry attempts to make electronic music. What a jerk, right? I mean, the audacity! It's a safe bet that Nicolas Jaar isn't interested in burrowing into one little niche and staying there. Future projects could take him anywhere, and envy aside I hope they do.

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