Pruning next months’ concert calendar for the not-to-be-missed
Nicolas Jaar (3/25 at The Independent · Sold Out – start Craigslisting!)
“Replace the word space with a drink and forget it,” Jaar pines, glumly. “Space is only noise if you can see.” Wrap your head around this couplet, and you have grasped the central issue in a song about lines (as in geometric lines) that fall in love.
Yeah, it’s a little out-there. Before you dismiss this 22-year-old Brown University student as a pretentious hipster, though, hear him out.
Space is Only Noise is a deliberately concept-driven album (if its title didn’t make this clear enough, the opening sounds of French dialogue over lapping water will leave no room for doubt). As such, it should be judged something like one would an undergraduate thesis – based on how well it articulates its central concept, and how compelling this concept ultimately is.
If “space is only noise” sounds like a lot of stoned dorm room baloney at first, one careful listen to the album will establish it as utter truth. So there you have it.
With most music, artists utilize the medium – vibrating air molecules – to convey a statement or open up an emotional world. Sonic “texture” and sense of “space” are surface-level attributes of the conduit. In this way, music tends to present itself as an opportunity for looking through, or perhaps entering.
Jaar, on the other hand, makes music for looking at. On Space is Only Noise, the timbre of the piano chords, synth burps, clicks and recorded sound samples, and their patterns of distribution over time, is the point. The look and feel of the noise carries an emotional impact of its own.
The stuff is sometimes described as “minimal techno” because it is sparse and unhurried (Jaar likes to slow it down because “more unintentional things happen between the beats”). In view of the sprawling diversity of sounds on the album, though, minimal hardly seems like the right word.
Jaar’s compositions may defy the average listener’s expectations about pacing, but they are by no means inaccessible or alien. “Keep Me There” recalls the eerie trip-hop of Portishead’s Dummy, “I Got A” and “Problems with the Sun” have an appealing bluesiness to them, and “Space Is Only Noise If You Can See,” the album’s centerpiece, sounds something like Hot Chip’s “Ready for the Floor” on Ketamine. It’s an album that you could really blast, should you be so inclined.
Given the work’s interest in texture and space, live performance opens up a world of intriguing possibilities in the way of real-time sound construction. While the album sounds as though it was almost entirely composed on a laptop, in the past Jaar has incorporated guitar, drums and saxophone on stage. If his recent multimedia performance in MoMA’s geodesic dome is any indication, there is much to look forward to.
There were times over the past few years when the demand for shoegazy, synth-based pop looked virtually inexhaustible. Swedish Duo I Break Horses’ debut this August, however, was one of the first to feel distinctly late to the party.
This is a significant event. Had Hearts been released one, two, three years earlier, its ethereal, computerized brand of moody pop pleasure would have satisfied the indie community’s tastes to a T. Its being stillborn, then, meant that a sea change was indeed underway.
In the summer prior to the album’s release, its initial singles “Winter Beats” and “Hearts” were still able to attract a good deal of hype, and deservedly so. Their electronic textures, propelled by punchy percussion, are thick and enveloping. They swaddle and lift Maria Lindén’s airy vocals.
“When your heart in winter beats/ don’t let that cold blood freeze/ cause frozen love will bleed.” It’s vague, romantic, and the song does an incredible job coaxing you to believe in it.
“Winter Beats” melts right into a droning, appealingly forlorn “Hearts.” If the album’s songs were to continue melting into gem after bedroom shoegaze gem like this, Hearts might have given the style another breath.
Rather, the remainder of the album comes to reveal its own lifelessness. This is not a result of bad songwriting, but the suddenly apparent fact that this idealizing, anesthetizing shoegaze pop aesthetic has played itself out, no longer has any life to give.
Of course, anyone who disagrees with that statement will find themselves a perfect show this May at the Rickshaw Stop.