Review Summary: A wompy yet introspective journey to an outer realm
Jason Chung, better known by his stage name, Nosaj Thing, is a difficult man to pin. If you saw him on the street, you’d sooner guess he made a living as your son’s math tutor than as a prominent DJ. Chung’s primary influences come from hip-hop he heard as a kid in the suburbs of Los Angeles, yet he sounds more like Bonobo
or even Kraftwerk
. You have to listen very intently before you hear a production style influenced by Snoop Dogg
and Dr. Dre
, with distinguishing funky beats that separate him from the somewhat similar artists on Warp Records.
His debut LP is almost as hard to come to terms with. It’s not very striking at all, and despite instantly acknowledging that he had produced a solid record, I cast it aside, thinking it a less chaotic and unremarkable take on what Flying Lotus
has been doing. ‘1685/Bach’ is probably the best evidence of this, but perhaps more than any others on the album, it lays Nosaj Thing out in front of us, presenting a fairly disturbing sense of what goes on inside the man’s head. Even though this is one of the strongest tracks on the album, one careful listen is all it takes to realize he has managed to craft his own sound.
The whips which begin ‘Quest’ set an unusually exhilarating backdrop for an otherwise smooth track, and the wobbly synths of ‘Fog’ give the first impressions of taking off somewhere different completely. But the gorgeous misty ambience of ‘Coat of Arms’, and the ghostly ‘IOIO’ kick things into higher gear, threatening to explode constantly yet attacking you at so many deeper levels. ‘Caves’ is probably his most accessible track and is perhaps a microcosm to the album as a whole, seeming like a countdown to something important. ‘Voices’, however, takes eerie to a whole new level, and serves as a crucial lead-in to the orgasmic ‘Lords,’ whose raw power seems capable of rising one from the grave.
As ‘Light 2’ rears its gorgeous mystical head, time seems to stop, but its underlying beat somehow manages to keep everything moving, making it an immediate standout. But the incredibly personal ‘Us’ strikes a whole new spectrum of emotions. Just as the synth tries to rise out of a stupor of loss, keyboards bring us down to earth and remind us to be sad about something we never really knew we had to begin with.
What’s scary is that despite all this album is able to convey, it shows many signs of being a debut record. It isn’t difficult to tell from the sound of the album that Jason Chung is a huge computer geek, and it is very obvious that he has been fiddling with sounds for many years, but at times this album suffers because it sounds more like a mixtape than an LP. ‘Drift’ is the perfect name for this album, since Nosaj Thing never fully commandeers his own sound, seeming content to let beats manifest before taming them and making them his own. You don’t get a sense that there is any mission behind any of the songs created or that most tracks on the album need to be placed where they are.
Still, as far as experimental yet accessible electronic debuts go, this is one of the best I have ever heard.
But whatever it was always had that hip-hop backbone to it
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