Producer and composer Nicolás Jaar serves up his most wonderfully experimental offering yet
Nicolás Jaar has been a busy man. Over the last decade, the New York-based electronic producer has released full-length projects under three different aliases, composed two film scores, co-produced the critically acclaimed FKA Twigs album Magdalene and performed multiple improvisational sets using live sampling. And, he’s only 30. Jaar has released three albums in 2020 alone, but February’s 2017-2019, his second full length project under the alias Against All Logic, might be his most ambitious offering yet.
Born in New York City to Chilean parents, Jaar found his footing in the city’s music scene at a young age, incorporating Latin, hip-hop and ambient influences into his own unique brand of house music. But 2017-2019 marks a clear shift into the realm of experimental electronic music. Across the project, Jaar puts on a masterclass in percussive production, cleanly transforming zany, distorted and frenetic instrumentation into driving beats. He also experiments with the rest of the mix, molding the sounds of bass guitars, synthesizers and keyboards into crunchy, biting and glitchy accompaniments. 2017-2019 is perhaps Jaar’s riskiest endeavor yet, and while parts of the project feel a bit drawn out, most of those risks pay off.
The album’s first two tracks, “Fantasy” and “If Loving You is Wrong,” are its most club-ready. “Fantasy” is a jarring, chaotic banger with an incredibly intricate, driving percussive mix. A grainy bass, subtle synthesizer harmonies and spliced vocal samples fill out the tribal-sounding mix, complementing the frantic percussion well. On the latter track, Jaar slows things down with muted synths and static vocals creating the effect of being stuck in quicksand. With an evocative instrumental in place, Jaar takes initiative with his percussion, constantly morphing and adding to the track’s driving beat.
“With an Addict” feels like one of the album’s weaker spots. Running over seven minutes long, Jaar seems to drive himself into corners instrumentally. There’s plenty to like about the track’s glitchy, schizophrenic production, but the mix feels like it’s missing some complexity and the track ultimately begins to drag on towards the end. The following track, “If You Can’t Do it Good, Do it Hard,” steers things back in the right direction. Jaar pushes the limits of what percussion can be, manipulating shrill synthesizers and spliced vocal samples into percussive elements alongside the standard kicks, snares, rim shots and hi hats. The result is a wonderfully experimental track that has a tribal but digitized feel to it.
“Alarm,” with its tense, anxious beat and crunchy, fuzzy synthesizers, seems to signal a shift in the album’s mood as Jaar ratchets up the intensity even further. While short in length, “Alarm” cleverly incorporates some more metallic percussion like cowbell, triangle and pots and pans. The next track “Deeeeeeefers” picks up where “Alarm” leaves off, maintaining the latter track’s percussion while adding in some unusually pronounced synthesizers. The track feels like a chaotic spin on progressive house music, with its frantic assortment of distorted ambient sounds and white noise, but it also evokes a palpably brooding and intense mood like that on Muse’s The 2nd Law.
“Deeeeeeefers” continues smoothly into the following track “Faith.” Like its name implies, the song conjures up images of cathedrals and church choirs, with echoey choral vocals sitting atop ominous synthesizer chords. While this pairing works well together, Jaar struggles to give direction to the mix and it feels somewhat disjointed. Jaar again segues cleanly into the track “Penny,” which sounds like an underwater drum machine. Light, woozy synthesizers create the feeling of being submerged, with panning and distortion effects giving them a ton of movement. But percussion is once again the star here, and Jaar smartly molds the track to complement the energetic percussion that drives things forwards.
Album closer “You (forever)” lacks the driving percussion beat of the previous offerings, instead creating a feeling of floating in sonic space. Synthesizers play somber chords while Jaar plays around with some truly wonky sounds. There’s string plucks, crunchy white noise, scraping sounds and even what sounds like wood being chopped. The mix is jarring, distorted and eclectic, and unlike some of the previous tracks that do all of these things while remaining listenable, “You (forever)” is, simply put, ugly–and not in a good way.
On his second project under the alias Against All Logic, Nicolás Jaar discovers a truly singular sound. 2017-2019 occasionally feels lost or stagnant, but the creativity and intricacy of Jaar’s production allow many of the project’s risks to succeed. Across the album, Jaar is able to coax out some delightfully different and exciting sounds, combining them cleanly while also evoking a range of moods and feelings in the listener. Nicolás Jaar’s foray into experimental electronic music on 2017-2019 is seldom disappointing and it pushes the envelope for what house or ambient music can be.