Review Summary: A tour de force with few modern equals
One of the boldest experimentations of our time, John Cage’s 4:33 threatened to change our outlook on music and the nature of sound itself. An Avant Garde masterpiece. First written for piano in three movements, than at the height of its popularity rewritten for orchestra, the song even was broadcasted worldwide on BBC in 2004 in front of a sold out audience who seemed to be held mesmerized by the sound of every note. Well actually, the lack of every note. The term written is used very loosely when referring to John Cages 4:33, because the fact is he didn’t write ***, 4:33 is exactly 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. The movement’s just the composer turning over a piece of paper, the musicians held to having an awkward staring game with the audience. Despite the inherent suggestion that John Cage just pulled the most ingenious get rich scheme the musical world has ever seen, the piece makes a valuable presumption. What if silence is music? What if we spend every minute of every day bathed in ambience? Is Music not just vibrations going through are ear canal, but rather an experience going into our brain. Or will BBC literally just play anything? Whatever the point, 4:33 has had enormous implications on our modern musical world. Case in point, Nicolas Jaars “Space Is Only Noise”
Nicolas Jaar is not a pretentious grey haired classical minded mad genius like John Cage was, on the contrary he’s a DJ, he makes dance music, but based on “Space Is Only Noise” I think the two would get along very well together. Because Nicolas Jaars dance music isn’t dance music at all. It’s way to slow, it’s heavy handed, sophisticated, and every time the album heightens to the point where you could be tempted to think “What a great club song.” The very thought gets slaughtered by waves of minimalism. The traditions are there, but the execution leads you into an entirely different space in thought. The silence of 4:33 is found in every idea of “Space Is Only Noise”, although you won’t find a second of pure silence in Nicolas Jaars album, you’ll find the space in between the notes to be just tantalizing, offering the same experience. The music just isn’t given space to breathe, it’s beyond that, it’s given it’s own atmosphere.
Climaxes are hard to find here, and although they’re there, they never bring things to a complete boil, just a slight slimmer. “Keep Me There”, one of the grooviest and downright smoothest tunes you’ll find this year, patiently walks towards it’s peak, and when the horns finally explode in the background, they’re spliced, cut up, and misarranged. When the album finally bursts into the out of nowhere pop song “Space Is Only Noise If You Can See.” The song’s volume escalates steadily; until at it’s highest point it unexpectedly transitions to the calm ambient drone of Almost Fell.
The album just isn’t some frustrating exercise in tease and denial, it’s also masterful, often combining traditional and modern instrumentation at will, transforming an electronic album into something strangely organic. A beautiful jazzy piano solo interrupts a parlay of French speaking in the opening track “Etre”, “ Too Many Kids Finding Rain In The Dust” is downright hypnotic, Jaars deep voice lulling you into the music. The song get’s completely brought to another dimension when a violin enters the electronic atmosphere, gelling right in. “I Got A Women” turns Ray Charles expression of celebration into a melancholic mournful dirge, which will threaten to change the way you think about Ray Charles's classic even after the first listen.
But just as often as the album amazingly fits together, it is often just as often expertly off putting. While it is never off putting in a negative way, it is made clear that the album’s purpose isn’t to make you comfortable. “Problems With The Sun”, while starting with minimalist techno, soon transitions into polarizing jazz, with Jaars voice cut unrecognizably warbling over it. “Balance Her In Between Your Eyes” surprisingly features Jaars falsetto, although a far cry from Thom Yorke’s, the premise of the song works well until the voice is magnified louder than the music behind it, creating a sensation of near claustrophobia. Even the sense of space is controlled on Jaars album. Throughout the album, musical structures are rearranged until they are presented as mirages of their former self, still recognizable, but ever changing. The music often seems to come out of a mystical left field. It is odd but mesmerizing.
On second thought, “4:33” and “Space Is Only Noise” don’t really have much in common at all. “4:33” is about silence; “Space is Only Noise” Is more about…well space. But they both share the same goal. Just as “4:33” ignored the conventions of classical music, and somehow captivated audiences with it’s note-less ambitions, “Space Is Only Noise” is a backhand to the dance genre, slowing and rearranging the art down to where it’s almost unrecognizable if it’s even dance music anymore. Both pieces don’t want us to be comfortable, or even fully entertained; they want us to ponder, to theorize, and to question what we hear. Because both works don’t treat music as noise, they treat it as experience. It is for this reason that “Space Is Only Noise” is easily the best album of the early New Year, and Nicolas Jaar has the potential to change and shape his genre in years to come.