Monday, 7 January 2013

Nosaj Thing - Home


Albums, and quite possibly artists too to some degree, are usually - quite expectedly - recognized and remembered for the very music they output when it comes to album releases. For Los Angeles born producer Nosaj Thing, the one thing that instantly comes to mind (for me at least) is rather the album cover, over the music itself, to his debut release Drift. Way back in 2009, like many a casual browse back then, the discovery on this end was one of a simple iTunes curiosity - at a time when 'electronic' tags actually reflected that in result sweeps. It took me a while, admittedly, to come to find Nosaj's glitchy spacious identity in electronic music, to be more than just some one-trick flavor of the moment. And alongside his debut's simplistic cut-out geometry of UFOs coasting along a nightly backing, Nosaj Thing proved himself a worthy contender as the poster boy for glitch's increasing popularity at the time. It may have taken nearly 4 full years to return, but his follow-up release Home hopes to not only continue that trend, but so too as is apparent, build on these ideas through vocal usage and more experimental deliverance of music - organic and synthetic alike.

Straight from the word go, to open proceedings on the album's title track, the sounds Nosaj is rummaging and warping amid the space removes itself from the former glitched, wonky electrics of previous. Here, there's more of a warm and earthly conjuring instead, two-step percussion soon joining in the twisting and turning of bass and distant synth keys that make more of an organic setting than a purely mechanical one. The collaboration with Kazu Makino on follower Eclipse/Blue returns us to that familiar upbeat nature, but remains resilient in providing us more with this earthly, low-to-the-ground stance with its foggy bass and pounding drums that begin to build momentum as the track progresses. Makino's own inclusion certainly gives the track a dreamy quality, and while I wouldn't necessarily say her inclusion greatly improves on the instrumental accompaniment, it does add this lingering contrast of more eery uplifting tones to the music's low-key, muddy palette of drums, bass and swayed distortion. But being one of the few times where vocals are incorporated in such a strong and forefront manner, Nosaj's music does indeed give itself some relational credential as to providing some means of context and subject matter as to where the music is going.

The track Safe too has an emphasis on vocals, be it more the musical exploiting and layering of ushered tones that act as another synthesized corner of the track. I find myself liking the keyboard work here more though - notation working like some wind-up toy jukebox playing a lullaby, or something as equally soft and soothing. There's more of an emotive projection about the music overall, and it conjures up an illustration of something far more human and personal. But any form of identity ends here, and I expect this lack of meaning is intentional. I suspect Nosaj Thing is an artist whose reasons for these sounds are purely melodic as opposed to conceptual. With Glue, we get more of a clear reminder as to what made his debut such a fitting listen. Here, we return to Nosaj's typical wavering of rhythm and passage of beats that sway to and fro amid the acute pitch of drumbeats and percussion. The track is more upbeat and danceable than previous, but that doesn't necessarily stand out as the track's best feature. While there's still a sense of experimentation and discovery about more ambient and down-tempo sounds in the track, Nosaj never let's his focus shift away from this passage of clicks and blips that make up the track's disco-like setting.

So there's a balance between glitch and non-glitch; between what we know Nosaj for creating and what Nosaj himself wants to explore further. Certainly, the music ends up meeting at a musical cross-road in a sense, given how focused Nosaj comes across in maintaining his original sound, while at the same time working enough material to mix things up. But amidst all the lush palettes of synthesizers and distorted instrumentation that make up this album's more experimental sounds, there is, admittedly, less of a development into how far this particular artist is going in his investigation. There are contrasts of echo against reverb - as there are moments when the emphasis of beats is replaced by the importance of the musical atmosphere - but the case here, is that at times, the sounds emerging from out all the fog and the ambiance of Nosaj's more down-tempo brainstorming, feel somewhat familiar and expected. The inclusion of piano in places - as in the brief Prelude - do give off an interesting somberness and lighter texture to the artist's crunchy jaggedness of previous. But moments such as these are in short supply in favor of electronics that waver and phase between one another. Try, which features the vocal work of Toro Y Moi, does however lift the mood and for what follows. Here, Moi's grazed distancing of lyrics fit well with the music's more introverted passage of clicking percussion and oceanic climbing of synthesizers that wash over the music in swift passages throughout.

As the album end draws nearer, we find Nosaj seeping more into this subterranean low fidelity of electronics. Phase III, has a chill-wave approach to its conjuring of synths and the way the drum placement feels sampled or thrust directly into the forefront of the track. Vocals, again, are more instrumental and placed as opposed to lyrical or subjective, and it emphasizes the sample-like character this track seems to gain more and more as it progresses. Light #3 - both the album's closer as well as a reference, in name, to Nosaj's debut's previous two offerings under the 'Light' title - feels more fulfilling and purposeful than other tracks, as the structure and progression of contrasting elements feels a lot more thought over and considered. What starts as a simple rising and falling of piano soon jitters and glides into a swing of hefty drumbeats and glitched instrumentation that focuses less on anything electronically focused and more on the organic equivalent of Nosaj's technique. The result is more complete and worthy to end the album, because of it. And despite it being a short offering, it does pave the way for Nosaj to extend his sound further beyond this in the near future.

Given that this is a January release - as well as being an album that many will have waited for, as noted, for a while - there's an uncanny willingness to suggest this sound feels suited to the latter half of winter and the dawn of what is already a new year for all of us. But as noted, this is an album that doesn't necessarily draw heavily on any real solid concepts or subject matter. Rather, the sounds emanating from out of Home feel caught between an abstractness and a non-physical wavering. Anyone who knows Drifts like the back of their hands will see a dynamic shift in attention regarding this album's content for sure, and there are certainly going to be questions raised as to Nosaj's shift in musical identity here. But the change, overall, does bring about some intriguing shifts of ambiance and less-ferocious melodies. The glitches may be considerably lesser on this release, but while the clipping of beats and mechanics isn't evident on the outside, instead what you'll find, is Nosaj working to find a unison between technique and deliverance. It may not be ideal at present, but it definitely conjures up some intrigue, at the very least.
~Jordan

7.3

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