Nicolas Jaar 8.4 review on Pitchfork (posted by Harry)

Nicolas Jaar

* Rising: Nicolas Jaar Album Review 8.4
Space Is Only Noise – Nicolas Jaar
[Circus Company; 2011]

Strange can exist anywhere, but we have a habit of thinking only the maximal and unhinged– Captain Beefheart, Basement Jaxx, R. Kelly– are truly weird. How bizarre can the music of Philip Glass or Wolfgang Voigt really be? It seems contained, planned; the curio is the choice to be so on-keel in the first place. One of my favorite aspects of Nicolas Jaar’s debut full-length, Space Is Only Noise, is how thoroughly it scatters this misconception. Space is leftfield electro-pop, far-flung and without reserve, but it is also patient, quiet, and small.

Jaar is a Providence via New York via Chile producer. He is 21, he attends Brown University, and he already has several well regarded singles and EPs to his name in addition to running the Clown & Sunset imprint. Requisite hot remixes: check. He exhibits all of the earmarks of a rising techno star: He remixes dance music, and his early singles were released as 12″s on dance labels. He counts Chilean techno giant Ricardo Villalobos as a prime inspiration. Little with Jaar is straightforward, however. His father is an acclaimed visual artist. His mixes play like outsider pastiche. There are conflicting reports about whether his downtempo beats– usually clocking between 90 – 110 bpm– actually move dancefloors (Jaar himself is skeptical).

Here is an alternate theory as to why Jaar occasionally fails to shuffle Nikes: He makes weird, self-contained music that only lands a glancing blow on house or any other particular dance subgenre. Jaar’s music incorporates lounge pop, African jazz, hip-hop, and sound collage in addition to house and pinches of dubstep. The type of soundsystem most appropriate for Space isn’t a sleek club hi -fi but a Victrola in a stop-motion film (“steampunk house”– let’s please not go there).

The textures and ingredients of Jaar’s music exist in the context of techno– rhythm and repetition are clearly important to him– but Space is not dance music. It’s too slow, sure, but it’s also too diffuse in its methods and results. Pianos, organs, guitar strings, and, most surprisingly, Jaar’s voice all fall under Space’s sepia-toned veil. This sounds like a lot to take in, but Jaar goes to great lengths to ensure that Space settles lightly. The tracks are short, funny, and always hitched to a melody. He sidesteps impulses– during the quivering “Almost Fell”, for instance, or during “Specters of the Future”, during which actual techno threatens– to drift into full-on ambience, skronk, or extended beat passages. The goofy bass bumbling of “Problems With the Sun” is as likely to stick with you as the elegiac “Colomb”. Functionally I keep thinking of my first listens to The Books’ Thought for Food: familiar styles and influences are wafted under my nose. There is a lot of teasing recognition but very little realization. The record passes easily and quickly.

Just as Jaar’s treated instruments blur the line between digital and acoustic, his voice– calm and husky, somewhat affected– saddles up to the soul samples and film dialogue that pepper the album and confidently blends. He hums earworms– “Replace the word ‘space’ with a drink and forget it”; “Too many kids finding rain in the dust”– that ripple across his productions. These voices– Jaar’s own or samples– are more than melodic placeholders. The gentle house balladry of “I Got a Woman” uses a looped Ray Charles refrain and French film dialogue to evoke something more specific than the electric pianos and breakbeat can. Jaar is akin to labelmates DJ Koze and Dave Aju, who weave voices among beats in counterintuitive ways.

Space never feels like a showcase for Nicolas Jaar; it’s just a modest and well-decorated gathering place for some things he loves, a place for them to interact. This teetering restraint masks the true weirdness of Space Is Only Noise. I could understand someone finding the intensely self-contained Space a bit claustrophobic, but the album is most rewarding when you just grab a seat at the table. Because when Jaar chants “Grab a calculator and fix yourself” I don’t sit there and think, “Gosh, why am I listening to electro-acoustic downtempo future-jazz?”; I go look for my calculator.

— Andrew Gaerig, February 17, 2011

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