Instrumental hip hop for dinner parties.
I’ll admit to a tendency to think of music in overly pragmatic terms. Where can I use this? What situation in my life would be best served by hearing this playing from a home stereo, headphones or live in a club? When would I most enjoy this? Whenever you go down that road, however, you’re leaving out a very large catalog of music, the sole purpose of which is to just be enjoyed. Musicians like Jason Chung don’t seem to have a target demographic or any particular verbs in mind when they engage in their craft. It is not strictly dance music. It is not love making music or driving music—though it could just as easily be all of these things.
Home is emotionally malleable but as the name would suggest, it never strays too far from its origin. Nosaj Thing is frequently referred to in hip hop terms but having worked with artists like Kid Cudi; Busdriver; Chance the Rapper; Flying Lotus; and Radiohead, you immediately begin to see that we’re already far outside the neighborhood of anything which could be considered typical. These are all musicians who’ve managed to thrive on the fringes of what they do. What Nosaj Thing is doing here is making powerful and moving electronic music.
There’s a warmth to this record that permeates every note of sub-bass. There’s no dance-floor friendly banger or loud snapping snares. It’s all easy entrances and exits: guests stopping over unexpectedly to relate a sad story and then exiting quietly through the back while you’re pouring the tea. This record brings to mind Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James Album far more than anything from the streets of LA. To his credit Nosaj Thing doesn’t have to dig deep into the esoteric end of glitch or fall back into the safe zone of chilled out pop music. Indeed the most pop-like single on the record is “Eclipse”, featuring the immediately recognizable multi-layered vocals of Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino. I can’t image a better compliment to the sound of an album which opens on an abstract rhythm that seems to have been born as hip hop and had its components replaced with xylophone, reversing sweeps and aesthetics which would mix seamlessly with anything by Iceland’s Mum.
Home‘s gentle beginning progresses consistently into a parade of autonomic-inspired lullabies. “Safe” and “Distance” employ a quick-paced pitter-patter of barely-there percussion that accompanies simple melodies of notes which evoke elements of hip hop long after the thugs grew up and had families. “Tell” is the furthest from the path; on this one the synths and horns seem to get a little jarring but even at that, it isn’t long before Nosaj Thing quickly reigns it in and brings the mix back to a simple breakdown.
“Prelude”, completely void of any percussion at all, seems to simply set the stage for the latter half of the record, with a melancholy piano tune passed through some destructive filters which give it an otherworldly sound. “Try” picks up on this transition perfectly and an already dark album takes a turn for the slightly darker despite an attempt at uplifting vocals from Toro Y Moi. They emerge here as little more than contrast, serving to highlight the so-soft-it’s-fluid construction of the track. “Phase III” gets us quickly back on track for the round trip journey and the record ends on what might be the only successfully uplifting track on the record, “Light #3”. This final track dives right into a Drum n Bass step while angelic vocal synths carry it along.
It all comprises a somewhat short but very enjoyable collection of electronic music. These songs work together as a complete experience; with the exception of the single-bait “Eclipse”, there’s nothing here that stands out over the rest. That may sound like a negative criticism, but in this case it’s actually a testament to a well-produced piece of mellow electronica. It feels like we’re a long way from Massive Attack’s Protection or Thievery Corporation’s The Mirror Conspiracy but it’s always nice to hear something which reminds you of home.
// Notes from the Road
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