Nicolas Jaar enacts magical realism on new album ‘Sirens’ [Album Review]
As far as backgrounds go, Nicolas Jaar has quite an interesting one. Born into a French-Chilean family, Jaar spent his early years in New York before moving to Chile for a period of time with his mother. His father is a well known conceptual artist, whose work is largely focused on the socio-economic and political issues of present day. Once Jaar moved back to New York as a teenager, he swiftly fell in with the underground music circuit, and found his landing spot in the space that lies a step beyond any traditional confines of sound.
Space Is Only Noise, Jaar’s debut album, was released in 2011 to critical acclaim. And really, this is an understatement. The album was a breath of fresh air for the industry, effectively redefining the notion of what electronic music was, or rather, what it could be. While Jaar has been steady in his output since, what with various edits, a 2012 BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix Of The Year, his Darkside project, Nymphs series, and Pomegranates, it has been felt by both Jaar and his fans that no true follow up to his first album has yet to come.
A little while back, something peculiar occurred. Nicolas Jaar’s label and subscription-based site, Other People, morphed into a convoluted radio network, powered by multiples of the number three. This served as the second teaser that new music would be coming from Jaar this year. In a post announcing the network, Jaar also suggested that Channel 333 would make for a good ending point. As can now be seen, Channel 333 would go on to become the home of Jaar’s new album stream, Sirens.
Sirens is just six songs long (seven, including the bonus track) but its length has no effect on the breadth of its sound. Perhaps this is because of its abstractness. Blending softer elements, such as Jaar’s own voice or the sound of a piano against harsher noises like breaking glass and the drum’n’bass-y nature of songs such as “The Governor,” Jaar has managed to craft a piece of work that leaves the story up to the listener.
Sampling everyday objects, yet also manipulating sounds to their finite point, Jaar, it seems, has applied a sense of magical realism to his work. Yes, the concept is a literary one, but it makes sense given Jaar’s educational background in this area. The first sound heard on opening track, “Killing Time,” for instance, begs the question — what is it that’s actually being heard? Is it a car driving over gravel? A sheet or flag flapping in the wind? Or is it just feedback that has been engineered? This mystery allows for imagination, and gives way to a multitude of interpretations.
Maintaining himself as an experimental artist, Sirens sees Jaar dipping his toes into ambient, vocal, and club while taking a cue stylistically from doo-wop (“History Lesson”), punk, reggatron (“No”), and even traditional Japanese music (“Leaves”). The narrative Jaar tells is, in fact, an amassing of those told and reinterpreted throughout the years. It’s at once both a collection and a statement, and altogether a welcomed follow up to Space Is Only Noise serving as a reminder that nothing is ever as it seems — or sounds.