February 23, 2015


Other hobbyists gravitate to woodworking, marijuana cultivation, gemology, and urban gardening, but Nicolas Jaar’s pastimes tend to be more fruitful. Hence, when he got bored in 2013, he and Dave Harrington re-worked the entire Daft Punk album for the funk of it. His most recent contribution to the numinous is an unofficial soundtrack to the 1969 Soviet masterpiece commonly known as The Color of Pomegranates.

From the outside, it’s a welcome if not off-beat maneuver. But when you turn the beets into broth (I assume this is a Russian aphorism), you realize why this would be inspiring to any artist whose agenda is to attack from the perimeters. The film’s director was the brilliant and frequently banned Sergei Parajanov, who drew heavy censorship from Soviet authorities for his all-out subversion. He was somewhere between Andrei Tarkovsky and Oscar Wilde, abandoning social realism for stunning visuals, persecuted for his homosexuality, sentenced to time in labor camps, and beloved by fellow artists from John Updike to Godard and Fellini.

Widely considered to be Parajanov’s finest work, Pomegranates was banned from being exported outside of the USSR and denied circulation within the country following an initial two-month run. It’s an imagistic tale of the Armenian king of song, Sayat-Nova, widely considered the greatest troubadour to ever sip Armenian Cognac in the Caucasus. Clearly inspired by the New Wave, Parajanov depicts the poet-singers life from sexual initiation to death, discovering God and sustaining a lively spirit in the form of intense oppression. It’s a tribute to human durability, the limits imposed by outside forces, and the potential to sidestep them through art.

So it’s a natural fit for Jaar, whose career loosely traverses the boundaries between transcendence, the mystic, out-of-body experiences, and psychedelia in its least cliched form. He once mentioned the influence of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” on Darkside, and you can clearly hear the London lysergicists in the band’s name. Hence, this feels sort of like Nicolas Jaar’s Obscured by Clouds, a powerful experiment in a new mold, destined to be overlooked in his discography, but no less powerful. It’s a tribute to both dead martyr and generational muse, a way of bridging the chasmal gaps between eras.  Restrained and minimal, almost ambient at times, but forceful enough to asserts itself into a proud lineage. Sound being color. Pomegranate seeds being a way to lead you astray, before you remember that something can always be brought back in some other form.

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