Nicolás Jaar – ‘Telas’ review: a series of abrasive experiments from the prolific and unique artist

The Chilean-American polymath's most avant-garde work yet is an intriguing and often disquieting listen; he's always pushing boundaries

To label Nicolás Jaar simply as a solo electronic musician would do him a disservice. The Chilean-American is a prolific composer, sound/visual artist, producer and experimentalist whose body of work over the last decade has eschewed categorisation. To name just a handful of his recent projects, last year he produced much of FKA Twigs‘MAGDALENE’ and took up a residency at former munitions factory, Amsterdam’s Het HEM, where he wrote music inside an old shooting range tunnel as part of a sound and light art installation.

In 2020 alone Jaar has released ‘2017-2019’, an abrasive but brilliant collection of mutilated club experiments (his second outing under his Against All Logic moniker) and ‘Cenizas’, the closest thing he’s done to the restless, sorrowful ambience of ‘Pomegranates’ (2015). Months on, he’s returned with another full-length, ‘Telas’, summed up as “the fabrics of construction”. It’s marketed thematically as a sister record to Jaar’s “ashes of destruction” album, ‘Cenizaz’. And with rebirth at its core, Jaar has made his most avant-garde work yet

One thing’s certain with ‘Telas’ – Spanish for ‘veils’ – it’s not something you’ll be hankering to press play on repeatedly. Not that it’s bad music: excuse the pretension, but it really is an experience; one that would lend itself better to accompanying Jaar’s physical art installations than a standard album listen. Much of ‘Telas’ sounds like Jaar is trying to unite new, invented sounds (helped in part by bespoke DIY instruments) with more archaic sound, setting a shapeshifting journey of existential pondering into motion.

‘Telahora’ opens the album with a cacophony of brass, percussion and Gamelan-like gong chimes, followed minutes later by dusky drone sounds and hand-tapped drums that work to soundtrack the building of new life. Scuttling, reptilic FX synth noises creep in around the 12 minute mark, adding to the song’s organic-synthetic interplay. The “visual terrain” Jaar launched with ‘Telas’, an interactive website made with artists Somnath Bhatt and Abeera Kamran, breaks the music down visually into “liquid state”. Although this song has no steady rhythm, the sinews of a primordial life are audibly starting to clot and form here, helping to establish a “solid state” not fully realised by the website alone.

‘Telencima’ carries on in a similar vein to ‘Telahora’, untethered by a beat nor anchored by a reliable melody. Descending and ascending piano scales are wound backwards, and harp-like trills are jolted by distorted zaps of electronic clatter.

It’s the final two tracks that offer genuine emotional connection. The warped, organ-style synths that Jaar has played with on previous records (think 2011’s ‘Space Is Only Noise’) may introduce ‘Telahumo’’s foreboding tone, but it’s dispelled in part by an emotive synth refrain and ghostly echoes of “Maker”. The pulse lures you in, teasing a four-to-the-floor drop that’s cruelly never granted.

‘Telallás’ brings things full circle with insect-like scuttles. Brush strokes, string instrument slides, glitchy electronics and industrial clangs syncopate towards the end, only to disintegrate into nothing at the close.

This is merely a snapshot of the multitudes ‘Telas’ contains. Does it work to evoke ideas of creation? In parts, yes. Does it inspire repeated listens? Maybe not. But credit to Jaar for pushing and experimenting.

Nicolas Jaar Telas artwork

Release date: July 17

Release label: Other People

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