Nicolas Jaar – “Sirens”
Released September 30th, 2016
*Out of 5
Sirens, the sophomore album from widely-acclaimed electronic producer Nicolas Jaar, still has the immersive feel which is akin to his other works, but takes on a much more serious tone, grappling with the present issues in our society even if it lacks subtlety and tact. While only six tracks, this LP is unlike Jaar’s previous lengthy works but manages to paint a grandiose picture that interweaves his family’s Chilean history with the partisanship we’re seeing divide the United States today. When he was a child, Jaar’s parents managed to escape the atrocities committed by Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet – which is reflected in many of the sounds on Sirens, from the gunshots to the conversations in Spanish of Jaar and his father heard on “No” and “Leaves”.
The first few minutes of the 11-minute opener, “Killing Time,” welcome the listener with the soft sounds of a waving flag interrupted by the jarring crash of shattering glass that set the stage for what’s to come. When his vocals finally come in, Jaar’s fragmented singing references Ahmed Mohammed, the student who gained notoriety from making a homemade clock seen to some as a bomb, stating, “Ahmad was almost fifteen and handcuffed/He was just building his own sense of time.” Behind this societal reference, the steady droning of a synth builds and finally culminates in a gospel like chant of the words, “Just killing time,” as the song proceeds into the outro.
Known for having effortless flows between songs, Jaar’s transition into “The Governor” is easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. In between the socially conscious mutterings of “We’ve created a monster and it’s ready to build/The young one’s a trigger, with a bad habit,” Jaar goes into drum and synth refrains reminiscent of other artists like Flying Lotus, which gives this track a much more upbeat feel compared to what the listener has heard so far. That stark contrast between ambient noises and hard bass lines is all throughout Sirens and gives the listener a feeling of uncertainty about where the track is going at any given time. It’s clear that Jaar feels that America itself is in a state of ambiguity and chaos, fluctuating between periods of unease and total disarray. The impressive part is that despite this manifesting in his songs, Jaar finds a way to make each track sound like one cohesive piece of music. Even during one of his all-Spanish tracks, “No,” there is a two-minute lull where the classical guitars and castanets sound as if they’re being played off a scratched record until he brings the chorus back to a refrain of, “No need to see the future/To know what will happen.”
It’s moments like these that make Sirens such an enjoyable album to listen to. There are countless times where the listener is sucked into that point of reflection, framed behind his otherworldly echoes, only to be surprised with a transition into dance beats that could easily get a club moving. The most unpredictable moment happens right as “No” ends and “Three Sides of Nazareth” begins. A chaotic drum beat sets the backdrop for a story of Jaar meeting an old man on a road who shares with him how each side of the path is burdened with its own set of problems. Jaar is again drawing a parallel to the fact that in America, citizens are always faced with multifaceted issues no matter what side of the political divide you stand on.
As the album proceeds into the last song, “History Lesson,” Jaar’s heavy-handedness comes out again as he sings, “Chapter one: We fucked up/Chapter two: We did it again, and again, and again, and again/Chapter three: We didn’t say sorry.” However, all is forgiven 45 seconds before the album ends when the track reaches a beautiful choir-esque climax, leaving the listener feeling optimistic and with the thought that we can learn from the lessons of the past.