Nosaj Thing [Los Angeles]

by Dominic Umile

19 August 2009

Nosaj Thing's music is mysterious and provocative, bringing a rumbling intensity and highly individual style to both remixes and his own work.
Photo by
Alex Botwin -- Front page photo (partial) by
Dan Monick 
cover art

Nosaj Thing


(Alpha Pup)
US: 9 Jun 2009
UK: 9 Jun 2009

Review [18.Jun.2009]

When West Coast producer Jason “Nosaj Thing” Chung recorded one of the more displacing entries on Drift, his 2009 debut LP, he’d just encountered the limits of his patience. And he was probably wearing a Guitar Center name tag at the time.

At a music store day job he once held, Chung slipped into his workplace’s demo recording booth while on the clock. Casually shirking the living hell out of his customer service obligations, he fussed with software synthesizers and filter automations to begin sequencing a soothing melody and a set of spazzy air gusts. The track, “2222”, eventually nabbed the ninth spot on Chung’s album.

Splashy dynamics accent the varied beat-based productions on Jason Chung’s Drift. His instrumental electronic and hip-hop-oriented works go as far back as 2006, and Drift operates on a range of assorted tempos and stylish shifts, with nods to both contemporary maestros and classical recordings. Chung began tinkering with recording software when he was 13. By his early teens, Chung had already absorbed enough of his aural environment to begin honing the home studio method that calls on both his digital prowess and live musicianship. For the slick blend of vintage, glitzy accompaniment and ethereal washes on his album, he utilized computer applications and a handful of hardware synths.

Photo by Julia Tsao

Photo by Julia Tsao

“I’m definitely into Dilla’s and Madlib’s music; who isn’t?” Chung says. “I was listening to a lot of A Tribe Called Quest when I was in middle school and was really feeling the beats from the Beats, Rhymes and Life album. When I’m at home, I like listening to bands like Cornelius, Radiohead, and Blonde Redhead. I also like piano works by Satie, Chopin, and Debussy.”

Drift is as multi-tiered as Chung’s home playlist. It’s mysterious and provocative, with a drum sampler-powered low end that’s big enough to swallow a house. Chung’s “Coat of Arms” looks to Madlib’s baffling grooves in its gritty keyboard bass and kick, but Drift‘s beats aren’t exactly as tangible as those developed by his cited influences. The percussion rumbling under his full-length is more about what isn’t there than what is—an unearthly dose of broad, hollowed dub pulses, minus the snare thwacks that built the hip-hop he loved in his middle school days.

“I rarely start with the drums,” he says of his process. “I usually start by doing some sound design, and then I lay down some chords/melody/bassline.”

Alongside the huge rush from Drift‘s base, Jason Chung’s enthusiasm for layered melodies proves to be a strong suit on the record. Each track unfolds lethargically, with new ideas coloring every couple of minutes. “Voices” is grounded in fraying, bell-like tones and a deep, dubby kick. A second pattern of beats enters, while a grimier countermelody finds its place amid the blanketing atmospherics. The personal listening experience is undeniably a priority here, and Chung values a heavily ambient playback. Sampled breaths mingle with gloopy, reverberating ‘80s synths on “Fog”, while “IOIO” offers a headphones-tailored outing in glassy melodies a la Aphex Twin’s “Flim”.

The Nosaj Thing treatment of a superb Flying Lotus production called “Camel” appears on L.A. EP 2 X 3; the source material is on the latter’s Los Angeles. Chung’s remix nearly separates FlyLo’s already rich textures into halves with much-decayed, oscillating keyboard tones. There is less emphasis on the track’s drums for the re-work, and the results are lovely. They call attention to another one of Drift‘s most significant properties, the chopped vocals that are sometimes Chung’s own.

Photo by buddhabong

Photo by buddhabong

“‘Us’ and ‘Coat of Arms’ feature vocals that I sang,” the artist explains. “I started writing ‘Us’ while I was on an airplane, which is why the intro sounds like a takeoff.” The long-winding surge on the front end of “Us” gives way to a finely tuned, compelling piece on Drift. Inconspicuous percussion is nearly lost in a mere handful of chords and synth strings on the track, and a crackling backdrop teases both speaker channels with the notion of completely filling out its frame. Flying Lotus is just as playful with this device on Los Angeles, and there’s a similar tone within the otherworldly havoc that lines Brotha from Another Planet, the recent album from South Central native Ras G. He and Chung delivered an explosive outing on Mary Anne Hobbs’s BBC Radio 1 show in March this year. Chung’s set, a combination of live performances and exclusive tracks from Drift, launched with Frédéric Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor”.

Before Chung made his way into the lineup at the lauded Low End Theory party—a weekly celebration of beats at L.A.‘s Airliner that’s played host to Flying Lotus, D-Styles, Nobody, and more—producer, Alpha Pup co-founder, and Low End Theory organizer Daddy Kev kept running into Chung at his day job in a Pasadena music store. This is presumably the unlikely forum that allowed Drift‘s “2222” to come to fruition. It substitutes choppy jet engine swooshes for bass, and the mild synths swirling in between Chung’s faux windstorm are just weird enough to align with Drift‘s distinctive motif.

“It wasn’t long before Jason self-released his first EP, which I heard soon thereafter, when I realized that he harbored serious potential,” Daddy Kev says. Kev’s label would one day be the ideal home for Drift.

“The number one quality we look for in any artist is uniqueness, which Jason certainly has. Whenever I hear an original track or a remix from him, I can immediately identify it as a Nosaj Thing track within seconds. Jason has a sonic signature, which honestly is hard to find in electronic music. He also has highly gifted compositional skills, and almost every one of his songs is tonally perfect. Even the weird sound effects and textures are in key. It’s remarkable.”

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