[Innovative Leisure, 2013]
Jeff Pearson, January 21, 2013
Listen: “Eclipse/Blue (Feat. Kazu Makino)”
Pacing is huge in Nosaj Thing’s music. If it’s not evident by the, by today’s standards (especially in electronic music), long wait after his debut record, then the music held within it is the clearest indication. Coolly controlled and composed, a primer for the capabilities of minimalistic complexity, Drift was a stark alternative to the everything-all-the-time electronic of many of Jason Chung’s Los Angeles contemporaries. About four years later, time enough for the ADHD-addled internet generation to forget about him thrice over, Nosaj Thing returns with Home, a second glimpse into his complex world of bleak optimism, rudimentary technological excellence, proving once again just how important pace is to him and his music.
Home begins right where Drift left off. The title track leads in with warped vocal samples giving way to calculated rhythms that seem to creep along the throbbing surface like a caterpillar pulling itself across a dew-dropped leaf, immediately establishing the record as one in which theatrics take the backseat to mood and atmosphere. It’s no coincidence that Chung’s music is conveyed in such a methodical way; when asked about the current state of electronic music, he simply replied that, “It’s been a little frustrating to be honest. It moves so fast.” He is a producer who understands that those big moments that his contemporaries seem to rush into have more of a payoff when the music is allowed more time to breathe and naturally reach them. In that way, every track on Home serves strongly as its own patient entity, but the real wonder is how well they all form to complete a coherent arc, full of emotional highs and lows, with plenty of those peaks sprinkled throughout.
Those peaks are not few and far between, either. “Eclipse/Blue” follows the frigid tundra of “Home” with colorfully orchestrated, rifling syncopation and a brilliant vocal performance by Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead; the somewhat whimsical voice is made entirely human by Nosaj Thing’s physical production. It’s as if her voice is tethered to the pulse that Chung somehow spins from heady rhythmic explorations into the backbeat of a bona fide pop song, never compromising artistry for immediacy while achieving both. “Eclipse/Blue” shows a new side to the producer; in applying somewhat traditional structural concepts to his music, he is bridging the gap between the cerebral and the physical, firmly rooting him in the rare class of producers who excel at both.That said, Home is mostly music for the cerebrum rather than the body. There are only two pop music moments to be found in the sea of methodical electronica, coincidentally the only two tracks on the record featuring guest vocals. In addition to Makino’s ethereal accompaniment on “Eclipse/Blue,” Chung employs good friend Chazwick Bundick of Toro Y Moi to elevate “Try” above a dream-like instrumental of soft synthesizers and fluttering percussion.
Those two tracks serve as clear markers in the arc of the record; while “Eclipse/Blue” leads into the bulk of the record, “Try” feels like Nosaj Thing is winding everything down. Though Home may not tell a story in the traditional sense of the word, the way that the antiquated music box twinkles of “Safe” give way to modern technological ideologies of “Glue” and “Tell” feels like a natural progression, a means to an end. Chung is careful not to give away all of his tricks on any given track, spreading out the awe-inspiring moments evenly across the record. In this way Home is fully captivating, leaving the listener to wonder what lies beyond the grinding drum and bass rhythms of “Tell” or buzzsaw synthesizers of “Snap.”
Interestingly, the thing that makes Home such a compelling listen is not entirely what lies ahead, but rather quite the opposite. Chung’s use of space and knowledge on how best to use it drives the record forward in stunningly patient increments, almost as if he lives and breathes each subtle echo, every throbbing bassline. The percussion is so sparse that every snare hit feels monumental in scope and power, rattling through the listeners head, and any percussive flurry almost too intense to take in by comparison. In that regard, it’s the space that propels the record along, the anticipation for satisfaction of tension built that drives the urge to know what’s next. His attention to detail can’t be ignored, and it should come as no surprise upon listening to the record that it took this long to get it just the way he wanted it. If it results in a record like home, he can take all the time he needs.