[3 March 2011]
As James Blake is gushed on by the critical cacophony, a different young wunderkind will likely be overlooked. Nicolas Jaar, just 20 years old, is at least as deceptively related to the electronic music community as Blake; his indirect affiliation lies with house and techno rather than dubstep. Each has taken bold sonic risks within their respective genres, and Jaar in particular is drawing on a musical palette that is remarkably rich with influences.
Born in New York, Jaar moved with his family to Santiago, Chile during his pre-teens and then returned to New York for high school. By virtue of this early cultural exposure and armed with an insatiable musical curiosity, Jaar draws on Brazilian jazz and hip-hop producers like the late J Dilla and Madlib—two musicians whose own productions and samples have deep and eclectic musical pedigrees.
Jaar’s debut album, Space Is Only Noise, for the Circus Company imprint, follows an already deep catalog of EPs, 12” releases and remixes for the likes of trendy New York house label Wolf + Lamb, as well as Jaar’s own Clown and Sunset label. Despite the frequency of his outings, astonishing for someone who’s barely 20, nothing could’ve prepared Jaar’s admirers or the general listening public for what he has done on Space Is Only Noise. House is hardly anywhere to be found here, nor techno, though some of Jaar’s synth lines could certainly qualify. The tempos Jaar is working in are owed largely to hip-hop, and the rest of Jaar’s soundscapes are perplexing, disarming and utterly dreamlike.
The album begins with the song “Etre”. The lapping of waves on a shore ushers the listener into a short rumination on bodies and water before wan piano flourishes mingle with the sound of children’s laughter, mysterious clicks and stretches, and a man’s digitally manipulated vocal exercises. Water flows right into the second track, “Colomb”, where additional pops and hisses preface moody organ and a memorable beat, the first of the record.
The remainder of the record continues to explore the first track’s tension between cinematic, even literary glimpses and songs bordering on pop. At one point on album highlight “Keep Me There”, a jarring, screaming saxophone gets pitched up and down with a ferocity that bespeaks the album’s underlying vulnerability. Jaar’s emotional honesty is not without lenses though, and, just when you think he’s going to address the listener directly, he draws on electronic music’s endless sound possibilities to clutter and even drown voice, rhythm and melody with spontaneity and a young dreamer’s aimless drift.