Listening to this feels like entering an entirely self-contained world.
Alex Macpherson 2011-02-11
Another decade, another Chilean expat genius ready to redefine electronic music – so the hype goes, anyway. In the 00s, Ricardo Villalobos forged the path of minimal techno; and, thanks to a series of stellar singles, 20-year-old NYC resident Nicolas Jaar has been seen by some as a successor of sorts. There's no doubt that Jaar possesses talent in abundance – and manifests it in a genuinely singular vision. He draws on the blues, traditional global folk, found sound, modern classical music and minimal techno, among others – but listening to his slo-mo house, built from intricate details, an inventive and seemingly endlessly unexpected sonic palette, and some deceptively heavy bass, feels like entering an entirely self-contained world.
Jaar's much-anticipated debut album is a further exploration of that world that seems, initially, like a departure. For a producer operating under the dance rubric, Jaar often seemed to approach the actual dancefloor from tangential, almost accidental directions – and Space Is Only Noise tilts the balance further towards music for the head rather than feet. It's unafraid to take its time, to wend slowly and sparsely towards its pay-offs via tantalisingly lightly sketched musical ideas. For long stretches of time, Jaar reduces the beat to insectile clicks and whirrs, almost casually throwing in piano motifs or filament-thin guitars, but it's an extraordinarily submersive experience – an effect magnified by the rippling wave samples that recur across this fluid, often elusive album. Tracks have a habit of ending up in totally different places to their starting point – the squalls of sax that break into Keep Me There, for instance, or the way Too Many Kids Finding Rain in the Dust starts out as a Lynchian take on the blues and ends up in twanging spaghetti western guitars via keening cellos. Throughout, Jaar ringing the changes with almost imperceptible subtlety.
While his music can often seem like a cocoon, such is its own self-sufficiency, it's one that's humanised by samples of background chatter, children laughing and snatches of spoken word like fragments of half-heard film scenes. Jaar's own surprisingly deep voice, too, adds both emotion and gravitas - a bluesy croon that's both seductive and sad.
Space Is Only Noise is a less immediate starting point than Jaar's singles: little here has the focus of El Bandido, Wouh or A Time For Us – or the full-sounding lushness he has brought to his remixes of Kasper Bjørke's Heaven, The Bees' Winter Rose and Ellen Allien's Flashy Flashy. Instead, it is unnervingly delicate, endlessly distracting and ultimately addictively tactile as it sneaks under your skin.