05.12.2011, Words by Ruth Saxelby

12 albums for 2011 - Nicolas Jaar's 'Space Is Only Noise'

An album that precociously stands in the spaces between contradictions is the third on our best of 2011 list.

‘Space Is Only Noise’ is a brazenly conceptual record, brighter than people are supposed to make. The cover art features a baby Nicolas Jaar, shot in the space between east and west Berlin months after the wall fell. He chose this because it’s an album about no-man’s-lands – political, musical, intellectual, emotional – that stands between parallels. Self-consciously cerebral yet soulful. Slow to the point of silence, but undoubtedly body music. Soaked in music’s ghosts, it sounds like nothing else.

Often mentioned is the fact that Jaar’s a literature student at Brown University, Rhode Island and this is nothing if not a scholarly album. That it’s an album that wears its influences on its sleeve is beyond question. Many people have made music about listening to music this year, but no-one has done so with the mischief – or with the precocious talent – of Nicolas Jaar. Eric Satie is here, as is Miles Davies’s ‘In A Silent Way’. 00s commercial rap is an obvious influence, and it owes more than a debt to Mount Kimbie’s outstanding ‘Crooks And Lovers’, made just last year. But what so astounds about this deeply modern album is how cheekily it treats these influences, gleefully asset-stripping every record or tone Jaar’s ever heard into a new, fluent whole.

House and minimal techno is the 21-year-old’s heartland – see his handful of releases on Wolf + Lamb – but on ‘Space Is Only Noise’ he disregards this most back-slappy of modern musics, turning his back to make an album almost impossible to play in the club. But then, for a sit-down album, it’s uncomfortably physical, using tones and gestures designed to work on the body. Pharell’s kicks are here, sure, but he’s chucked away his instantaneousness for something intentionally abstruse. But abstruse music is boring, and Jaar, one feels, bores easily, which is what makes this record one of the most exquisite-on-the-ear albums of the year. He’s a student but one so drastically sure of himself he can take on his masters.

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