Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise (2011) REVIEW

A 21 year old Chilean techno producer from New York, Nicolas Jaar, who has already produced a handful of EPs, very much appreciated in clubs and among djays, has released his debut full length "Space Is Only Noise" and the least I could tell about it is that it contains more space than noise, if kids playing, water flowing and deep bass could be considered noise. This album is the logical continuation of his series of EPs where the term "techno" already had a wider meaning. I mean, this fellah succeeded to throw clubbers on the dancefloors from New York to Berlin with beats running under 100 bpm*. If you don't know what it means, well that's kinda slow. Besides, he doesn't hesitate to add acoustic piano and other seldom found in the so called techno idiom folk and jazz instruments into his compositions and mixes. Fact is, his tracks sustain interests and make you wanna move your ass, if in a lazy motion. On this LP, Jaar decided to strip most of its tracks from their dancefloor beats and groove and you know what? It still sounds so good, if not better. If taking this crucial elements needed for foot-tapping the floor offered him more artistic freedom, the big risk was to fall into lame and pretentious chillout ambient music, giving his choice of instruments it could easily sound like acoustic supermarket music. Well, Nicolas Jaar's compositional and producing skills, his imagination and eclecticism as well as his concentration and sense of purpose helped him to avoid all the booby traps of such musical adventures. His sense of purpose looks rather crucial in this process and the intro for the opening track "Être" offers a hint in a sample from some French movie where a man is saying “How can you talk about a landscape without browsing it from the earth to the sky and vice versa?” (loose translation) That record shows us a landscape even more than a soundscape, a wide landscape where the space is vast and full of noises, but small noises, the ones we have in dreams, bit of this, bit of that, and a sense of floating. In many ways, this is aquatic music, something like being lost at sea in a little fishing boat, half asleep, dreams, memories and real sound intermingling in our subconscious, it feels like finally resting.

An other peculiarity of this album is the regular presence of Nicolas Jaar's voice on several tracks. By the way, I was listening to this album at the same time as James Blake's debut and it was hard not to consider them as brother items, both sharing this evolution of their creators from electronic producer to near songwriters while incorporating that "transformation" into their own musical world. Compared to Nicolas Jaar, James Blake sounds far more conventional songwise, but again both shares also a similar way of mixing their vocals to the whole process, by multitracking their voice, making them appear in an apparently random way and of course by adding electronic effects, the results being very dissimilar, Jaar and Blake have obviously very different cultural backgrounds and personality. Jaar's got also a deep and cavernous voice which he sometimes likes to stick to the dub-like bass in some tracks. Who says low voice thinks Nick Cave, and surely with a song, because that's really a song, like "Too Many Kids Finding Rain In The Dust" whose beat and groove isn't to far from Cave's "Red Right Hand", but I would say his voice seems closer to Blixa Bargeld's if far less sepulchral.

"Space Is Only Noise" is extremely difficult to pinpoint with its mix of minimal techno, dub, found sounds, field recordings, modern classical music or even chamber jazz, and because of its eclectic instrumentation, from pure electronic sounds to rachitic electric guitars through something like a fiddle or even a Ray Charles' sample and of course that very crystallin piano. The music offered on this album is maybe to file along some contemporary Tuxedomoon without the theatrical brainy tendencies, which is not pejorative, while keeping much of its sex appeal. Actually, this is ambient music, but not really.

7 out of 10

* http://www.circuscompany.fr/nicolas-jaar-space-is-only-noise-ccs055/

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