24 Feb 11
Our man Nicolas Jaar was born in New York. That’s very unremarkable – a lot of people are born in New York, and, as people often do, most of them turn out to live unfulfilled bland lives that could easily serve as a sequel to Groundhog Day. What is remarkable, however, is that after moving to Chile and then back to his hometown, he started making music at 14. Three years later he was signed and released his debut EP, ‘The Student EP’. Now he studies at Brown University, still producing his idiosyncratic brand of dance music and occasionally touring.
The album starts with the sounds of waves lapping against… something – a beach, pebbles, possibly a dead whale – I don’t know. Various samples of speech come in, one after another, before the ‘music’ starts – calming, soft keys backed by stumbling, clunky percussion and chopped up vocal samples; on paper this might sound like Burial’s ‘Untrue’ but in reality it’s much tamer – not in a bad way, though. More samples jump in – what sounds like the noises of a childrens’ play park, including an obnoxious crying child you want to repeatedly and maliciously punch in the face. Downbeat piano lunges occupy the rest of the space in the track before the waves return once more and you realise that the first track, ‘Être‘, has finished. You feel sad, like just after you watched the last episode of Friends. Confused, angry, and slightly violated, you prepare to write Jaar an angry letter before you remember the track flowed rather beautifully right into the second track. Embarrassed, you put your clothes back on, return to your seat and hope someone outbids you on the anthrax you just tried to buy on eBay.
The tracks continue as tracks generally do – sometimes there are vocals, sometimes there are not. For an artist so influenced by dance music, however, the urge to dance is a rare, precious one. This is no dance floor filler, unless you want your dance floor filled with early twenty-somethings with too small sweaters, thick-rimmed glasses and iPhones. Some moments are genuinely thrilling – when the sax and bass drops in ‘Keep Me There’, for example, is a memorable moment. Alas, these moments are just too few and too far in between to leave a resounding impression.
One can hear the influence of the post-dubstep landscape in this album; vocal samples and choppy fragments of speech that seemed to be so much rarer before the aforementioned ‘Untrue’; that clunky, robotic percussion and an atmosphere so thick even Vannesa Feltz would have great difficulty digesting it in its entirety also put you in mind of a young Burial or a more contemporary Four Tet. But, hey, let‘s pretend that Jaar isn‘t just another guy producing generic post-dubstep/new-dance records: pinches of that hate-worthy tag ‘world music’ leap at you on your first listen. He lists the African jazz legend Mulatu Astatke as an influence and although you can never really put your finger on it, you can hear the effect the man has had on Jaar’s music. Jaar himself sings – he’s no James Blake, however, and at no point does the music seem to revolve around his vocals. He’s just another instrument, another layer that tries its best to cover up the metaphorical side-boob of silence. His no-thrills vocals complete ‘Too Many Kids Finding Rain In The Dust’, turning what may have been an average track into a standout.
You may have noticed how I haven’t really said whether I like the album or not yet – I am avoiding it. I have changed the locks, blocked it on MSN and I’m appearing offline on Facebook chat. Why? Because I feel bad for not liking it. It’s good, sure, if not impressive – however I just can’t get into it. Maybe it is indeed too deep for me, maybe I went into this album expecting something different, something I could get my Thom Yorke-esque groove on to. Repeated listens began to drag and I soon found myself listening to tKoL again instead. I’m sorry Nicolas baby, I just can’t do this justice.
Oh, wait – no, I don’t care.