Review Summary: Dancing On The Grave
Enigmatic producer Nicolas Jaar has been the darling of both critics and fans alike for several years now. His last LP, the dark and hard-hitting Sirens was celebrated for both its biting political commentary and its experimental, yet energetic soundscapes. So, it came as a pretty major surprise that he released a collection of tracks titled 2012-2017 under his far lesser known alias A.A.L. (Against All Logic) last week, to very little initial fanfare. Given this strange switch to a different moniker, you would be forgiven for assuming that 2012-2017 is somewhat of a throwaway project; a basket of B-sides and half-baked ideas, interesting for hardcore fans, but not worthy to be released as a part of the official Nicolas Jaar “canon”.
But, you’d be mistaken. 2012-2017 is a marvelous album that cements Jaar’s status as one of the most versatile and interesting figures in the scene. While 2012-2017 is a collection of tracks that has been written and recorded in a fairly lengthy timespan (5 years), the album comes together more focused and to the point than any of his other full-length projects to date. It also represents a pretty drastic shift in tone for Jaar (Which may explain why he released this LP as A.A.L.). Where Sirens was a cold and intimidating slog, with it’s dissonant, noisy beats (The Governor) and very loose song structures (Killing Time), 2012-2017 is immediate and ridiculously punchy, a microhouse trip complete with nimble hi-hats and funky samples.
Opener “This Old House Is All I Have” initially threatens to pick up where Sirens left off, an ominous choir is declaring: “The Foundations of the world are being broken”, while Horns swell and noisy beats clatter in the background, but soon enough the tempo and tone shifts and a warm, driving guitar sample takes the stage and pushes the track into a different direction. The sense of anxiety and dread that characterized much of Jaar’s recent work is still lurking under the surface, but by the time album highlight “I Never Dream” sets in with it’s endlessly shifting rhythm and soulful vocal sample, Jaar is ready to take the audience straight to the dancefloor.
While sampling has always been a staple of Jaar’s work, 2012-2017 features an incredibly playful and creative use of (especially vocal) samples, that hasn’t been present in his previous works. “Know You” and “Now You Got Me Hooked” are examples for this new direction, both feature colorful samples that Jaar effortlessly twists and turns ever so slightly over the duration of the song, creating two of the bouncy and exciting tracks on the entire LP. In these moments, one is almost tempted to liken 2012-2017 to works by plunderphonic greats such as The Avalanches. On other tracks (“Such A Bad Way”, “Flash In The Pan”) Jaar does slow it down a little bit, but while the less direct, more experimental sounds are bubbling to the surface here and there, the songs are definitely groovy enough to keep up the momentum of the album.
While the timespan in which this compilation was recorded may have been a time of growing anxiety and disgruntlement for Jaar, he has channeled that dread into an album that is above all a lot of fun. The foundation of the world may be broken, but there is no reason to be all doom and gloom about it.