Pop & Hiss

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In rotation: Nicolas Jaar's 'Space is Only Noise'

May 27, 2011 |  7:31 am

 A series in Sunday Calendar about what Times writers & contributors are listening to right now...

Nicolas Jaar has a fascinating lineage: He’s the son of acclaimed Chilean visual artist Alfredo Jaar and remains enrolled at Brown University as a comparative lit major. The singular beauty and innovation captured on Jaar’s debut, “Space Is Only Noise,” eclipses his background, however.

British singer James Blake has of late garnered acclaim for his blend of electronic production and organic soul, but Jaar takes the anachronistic/futuristic hybrid even further. He proves more adventurous, and more listenable: Jaar’s music lurks in the shadows, almost like a soundtrack, then creeps up on you and takes over your world.

The album starts subtly, with musique concrète sounds of children playing, and Jaar’s evocative, Keith Jarrett-style piano gradually coming into focus (both are motifs that recur throughout his work). Slowly, quietly, Jaar reveals sonic surprises: a twist on Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti-western scores in “Sunflower,” a mournful ’80s-style saxophone in “Keep Me There,” the playful vintage R&B feel of “I Got A.”

Throughout, Jaar’s murmuring vocals ebb and flow in the mix. There are touchstones for what Jaar does — the skittering, handmade melodicism of Thom Yorke, Flying Lotus’ deconstructed breakbeats, the minimalist atmospherics of Air, Portishead’s down tempo melancholy; it’s his idiosyncratic vision, though, that keeps drawing you back.


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In Rotation: Los Amigos Invisibles' 'Not So Commercial'

— Matt Diehl

Nicolas Jaar
“Space Is Only Noise”
(Circus Company)