[written quite a bit about jaar in the last few months for various places so, should you have subjected yourself to any of it, you may notice recurrent themes in the words below... they're my theories and i'm sticking to them, though, so tough]
people keep try to square away nicolas jaar as a house and/or techno producer. but they shouldn’t. bar the odd track, his music, if anything, is more a descendant of hip hop. he himself likes to call it bluewave. whatever your opinion of that epithet, the thinking behind it is solid: blue as in blues and all its emotional connotations, and wave as in the motion – gentle to-ing and fro-ing; occasional breaking ripples and the odd swollen undercurrent all carrying you along like a sad bit of drift wood. you dip below the surface, only to briefly reappear before being folded inwards once again. it’s hypnotising, detaches you from reality like a day dream and sounds like little else, whatever you wanna call it.
what makes it all the more intriguing is that, despite the vintage, sounds-like-he-just-miced-up-a-disney-animated-room-full-of- instruments finish, it is all made on pc (though he is a keen proponent of a good mic). whilst hawtin and others pushed computer cpus to the limit with a hundred and twelve-ty loops running all at the same time, jaar is experimenting with them in other ways. his aim is to make computer made noises sound like aged instruments, and he succeeds. bass notes sound played by someone with palpable attitude, and not just flat and dead as if straight from a machine. the keys are so drenched in melancholy you can almost see the player’s fingers drooping over them. ‘i got a woman’ is like the saddest fairground ride you never went on; both heavy but charming.
as well as instruments there are the sounds of tennis balls, gravel, scratching, wood, liquids, popping, crackling and other such noises all peppering jaar’s languid soundscapes. they are the noises of everyday life normally muffled by, well, the noise of everyday life. isolated and amplified, though, they make this an intimate record, almost as if you have a glass to the door of jaar’s world. you can’t escape that feeling that you’re listening closely, fully engaged in the goings on. and all this engagement despite the fact that ‘space’ features at least as much – if not more prominently – than ‘noise’ in jaar’s records.
within each track and across the album as a whole (and it is an album in the truest sense of the word), fluidly and without jar does nico switch the tempo from head swaying to hip hopping, or the mood from down-there to up-here. the sparsity of the arrangements means that when a new element does comes in, it has maximum impact; when a kick thumps a heartbeat harder, it moves your world. (that’s a touch homoerotic but the point is, not being near full throttle all the time means you have plenty of room to accelerate, even if it’s to a mere 100bpm.)
to crudely sum up, this is an arty album from an arty kid which rewards patience and attention on the one hand, but which pleases just as much when played in the background during a meal with your in-laws. or whatever. it’s that duality which means that, although there seems barely anything to it on the surface, space is only noise is in fact a deep masterpiece which will have you coming back for more. and more. and more.
ps: as mentioned, i was lucky to interview nico a couple of times before christmas so here’s a fact for you: the baby on the cover of the album is him, in the no-man’s-land between east and west germany that existed shortly after the fall of the berlin wall…. “a place [at that time] with no ideology, dialogue, struggle or anything else… just a space lost in the middle of two worlds.”