Nicolas Jaar is just full of surprises. He’s never released the same type of record twice in a row, following up his microhouse debut Space Is Only Noise with Darkside’s Psychic, a psychedelic collaboration with Dave Harrington that yielded a more sprawling and cosmic sound. When that collaboration reached its conclusion, he changed course yet again with the ambient collection Pomegranates, which gave way to the darker, sexier and more sinister Sirens, its song-driven compositions suggesting that the New York-based producer wasn’t done with building his own strange pop dystopia. And with rare exception, each of these projects essentially materialized instead of being treated to the typical press cycle, playing a game of musical jack-in-the-box with unanticipated, spring-loaded collections of artful electronic pop music.
With 2012-2017, his first full-length as A.A.L. (Against All Logic), Jaar makes another abrupt change of course, but one that nonetheless fits in with his continuously expanding catalog. An alias he’s used for a series of house singles issued on his Other People label, A.A.L. isn’t a complete diversion from Jaar’s other artistic forays, though it’s given its own separate identity for good reason. Where Darkside stretched out and unfolded with a soulful, bluesy sensibility, and Jaar’s previous full-length twitched and buzzed with an at-times harsh unpredictability, A.A.L. is music that primarily makes sense on the dancefloor. And that’s exactly where 2012-2017 lives.
Released—as is usually the case—with no early announcement or warning, 2012-2017 grooved its way onto the Other People catalog slyly and subliminally. It’s arguably the most immediate of Jaar’s most recent batch of full-lengths, if not necessarily the most commercial (which would be few, if any of them). His rhythms are all essentially in a 4/4 time signature with well-placed hooks and beats that compel the body to move. Right off the bat, it feels successful simply for doing what dance music is supposed to do. But there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s a set of music that takes a truckload of samples and musical reference points and reassembles them in Jaar’s dark, avant garde groove factory.
“This Old House Is All I Have” bears some of the familiar psychedelic soulfulness of Jaar’s other projects, most notably Darkside. But where that project was built from the ground up, this is an exquisite work of collage, a breathtaking array of horns, guitars, beats and voices all coming together in one trippy, bluesy excursion. “I Never Dream” is more manic and upbeat, with R&B vocals juxtaposed against sputtering breakbeats, and “Some Kind of Game” is a deeper dive into hypnotic techno textures. Yet no track is quite as euphoric as “Know You,” a perfectly tweaked pop song that layers on bouncy beats, Herbie Hancock-style synth funk sounds and the catchiest vocal lines on the entire album.
Throughout 2012-2017, Jaar takes on a long list of genres, from downtempo to house to techno, seemingly in an attempt to cover every stylistic base in one shot without losing any cohesion. It’s an ambitious goal, if that even is his goal, though it’s one he pulls off effortlessly, stringing together what amounts to the best DJ mix of this still-young year, entirely made up of original sample-based compositions. It’s high art in dancefloor-rocking form, raising the question of whether or not there’s anything that Jaar can’t successfully pull off.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.