Nicolas Jaar Space is Only Noise
Published Feb 14, 2011Is this nu-downtempo? Space is Only Noise is certainly chill, but it doesn't take long to unearth much more substance beneath its even temperament than, say, Howie B ever had. These songs are sumptuously produced, with clearly articulated acoustic and digital sounds and vocals folding together like sonic origami. Some people use reverb to add artificial warmth; Jaar's sounds are so finely wrought that 'verb would simply muddy the waters. Similarly absent are Fender Rhodes jazz clichés ― the few out-and-out electric keyboard sounds are definitely not presets. It's a very direct style, where the understated vocals, trombone and saxophone samples and staccato digital claps of "Keep Me There" build a crisp, clear mix with momentum. James Blake comparisons are not misplaced, given that both he and Jaar are ascetic young bucks with a flair for being concise. However, Jaar's grooves are way more continuous and driving. His range of mid-tempo is quite broad, so when a song like "Variations" ups the pulse to a relatively quick 115-BPM, the sound remains intimate. This is best experienced with headphones, but could also be a very good item for your digital record bag when the party is going up or coming down.
I understand you have a great love for African music in general. Can you be more specific as to what inspires you?
They use repetition in a way that a lot of Western music doesn't, and that adds a lot of sadness. I like Fado, which is sad Portuguese music, and stuff from Cape Verde, which is like a variant of Fado with African influences [aka Morna]. I was always a fan of stuff that came out of Nigeria in the '60s.
Do you see people moving away from classifying electronics by BPM?
I really hope so, but I understand why [it happens]. What most people say against the album is that it's lounge music, so that's interesting. I mean, it's true: I agree, if you hear it through that filter; it is inspired by trip-hop. I've always liked Portishead and Massive Attack, but it's up to journalists to pigeonhole music.
How do you approach vocals in your work?
Four or five years ago, I wasn't happy at all with my voice, so it's been slow progress. Plus, my voice has changed. The older I get the more I use my voice, because a rougher sound is what I'm going for, as opposed to my girly voice at age 17. (Clown & Sunset)