Nicolas Jaar has the sort of precocity that inspires immediate envy. Check the resume: he’s 21, a Brown University literature student, and spent a significant amount of time in Chile, affording him the ability to seduce significant others with a few significant clauses in his Romantic language of choice. Que Buen suerte. He boasts all the right influences for critical immunity: Mulatu Astatke, Madlib, Ricardo Villalobos. Most impressive is his ability to forge such disparate idols into something with its own unique properties.
Not to say that Jaar has found a philosopher’s stone. His chief sound-a-likes are familiar to fans of sotto voce electro — the xx and James Blake are the closest contemporary cognates, and in particular, he and the latter are likely to have a rivalry worthy of Universidad Católica and Universidad de Chile. Yes, he’s the sort of artist who seemingly compels one to make Chilean soccer jokes — esoteric for the sake of eccentricity and efficacy. As Andrew Gaerig aptly described Jaar in his BNM Pitchfork review: “Space Without Noise is leftfield electro-pop, far-flung and without reserve, but it is also patient, quiet, and small.”
Like the xx, Jaar’s genius lies in his sense of his restraint. While many of his post-dubstep peers cram their tracks with all the filigrees of the 4/4 world — jarring bass and punch drunk drums — he’s able to keep a steady but slow pulse. This is coffee shop dance music, with none of the perjoratives implied. It has the effect of coffee and a cigarette while reading a book, a perfect farrago of stimulants and slow pacing, moving as deliberately and wraith-like as twisting tobacco smoke.
Highlight “I Got a Woman,” is almost a trip-hop throwback track, redolent of Wax Tailor or Mo Wax at their most down-tempo and despair-rattled. “Keep Me There” blends his worship of Ethio-Jazz with pluvial pianos and a dusty, distant aesthetic. The result is a swell of emotion and songcraft rare for someone of this scene, a weirdly sumptuous sort of minimalism. It’s something that feels strangely rich but difficult to get sick of. Unlike most of the electronic music we post up, it’s accessible to non devotees. The product of an Ivy League scholasticism with the skill to convey a haunting sadness resonant to us all.