Nicolas Jaar – ‘Sirens’, from alien observations to The Supremes on Mogadon

jaarSirens is the second LP from electronic music composer, Nicolas Jaar. It comes five years after his debut album, the intensely strange Space is Only Noise. By turns shapeless and eerie, propulsive and sunny, Jaar’s work is somewhat of a riddle. His is the kind of music you could easily let drift into the background, but to do so would mean missing out on crucial details, meticulously assembled by Jaar, that make listening to his work as a whole, so compelling. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Jaar said of Sirens: “I didn’t want to make something that could be played in a hotel lobby.”

‘Killing Time’ opens the album with the sound of a flag whipping in the breeze, followed by the fright of breaking glass. This is Nicolas Jaar at his best, using incidental sounds for mood and texture – the shattering glass sounds like an arpeggio of falling stars. Soon, a piano comes to life, and wends its fragile melody through a pall of melancholy. Next track, ‘The Governor’, is Jaar’s idea of punk rock, and it comes as a shock after the mournful ‘Killing Time’. ‘The Governor’ sounds like The Stooges gone wrong – there are drums, but they are clattering and ramshackle, there is saxophone, but it sounds strangled and sick, Jaar’s voice is ghostly, not a shriek. ‘Leaves’ is a short piece that features a recording of a young Jaar talking to his father, sequinned with curious bleeps. It could be a vignette of a droid landed on Earth sampling human conversation for the very first time. ‘No’ is the album’s linchpin. It has an hypnotic groove punctuated by Jaar’s excellent Spanish diction. And album closer ‘History Lesson’ sounds like The Supremes on Mogadon.

I find it difficult to put my finger on what makes Jaar’s music so interesting. I would describe it as “incompatible” – each track like the work of several musicians, given differing briefs on how to approach the same tune. But Jaar is one man, and he somehow finds a way to unify his sound from different perspectives that are chasms apart. In Jaar’s world, everything seems off-kilter, and misarranged. But after the fourth listen, Sirens feels so right, so perfectly aligned. Jaar has stated that Sirens is a political album. The lyrics are sombre and serious. But even if you are apolitical, or you don’t care for history, Sirens will reach you if you let it.

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