It begins with silence. Then noise baseballs break the windows of your mind as rainbow notes flourish in downward patterns before forming a resting bed of ambient beauty on the floor you are standing on. At 5:00 into track one of Nicolas Jaar’s Sirens when most artists would consider the sketch complete, his voice first appears. But rather than the low tone bass rumble we are used to, he chills and stomps in his rarely used falsetto. Thom Yorke eat your heart out.
Speaking of Radiohead, track 2, “The Governor” begins with a tale of treachery and drug use over top of a steady rhythmic beat only to break into an extended shofar ambient section only to break into the best Kid A SNL freak out since the original. It’s perfect, it’s restrained, and then right when it’s about to explode, its gone. “Three Sides of Nazareth” burns like TV on the Radio but without the rampant intensity. Through simple piano, careful electronics and gorgeous but drowning vocals, Jaar creates a new world to explore on Sirens.
Jaar is a Chilean-American and his heritage shines here. Rather than just including a track in Spanish as it would seem, Jaar takes the listener on a journey that contains thoughts about the politics of his home country. The lyrics are more key on this record than any other piece of electronic music this year. The opening two tracks are dismal and moving. “Killing Time” reduces a person to a cup full of time that can be wasted and killed with little consequence. The complete indifference to human life continues on track 2. Not to beat a dead horse, but again, the Radiohead trick of showcasing idiotic thinking without ever correcting it is present here.
Sirens is about never ending national tragedies. The kind Nicolas grew up with in Chile, but also the kind he sees in front of his face. Nicolas’ father, Alfredo, is an installation artist, the cover showing a spot where a piece of his was displayed. As Nicolas follows his father’s lead, you can see the repeating message of the record. “No” is about the 1988 Chilean campaign to reject the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and Pablo Larraín made the story into a film in 2012. Now Jaar sees America in a similar spot. The cycle of historical ignorance continues. We never learn. As if the concept wasn’t clear enough, the final song “History Lesson” sarcastically describes simple chapters of our past failures. Chapter two is called “We did it again, and again, and again, and again.”
This is brave stuff, even if it is masked in poetry. For someone who has concealed himself behind other monikers and never truly followed up his beloved Space is Only Noise until now, this is a surprising record. You can hear him rise up and follow in his father’s footsteps in real time on the record. The main lesson learned: Art must stand for something if its going to last. Jaar has described the record as forming the last side of an album trilogy triangle, completing the plots created on Pomegranates and Nymphs. The record may be about repeating, but Jaar has yet to repeat himself. A MINUS