Note: Anything Nicolas Jaar puts out comes with baggage. Space is Only Noise is a great album. His work on DARKSIDE is great. He’s only 26, and is already one of the most respected (electronic or otherwise) musicians in the world. It’s important to get all of this out of the way, because it takes away from how amazing Sirens, his second LP, is.
While listening to this album, I grappled with three music-related concepts. All three of them have something to do with ‘what’s in between’.
I first became conscious of the compositional importance of silence while listening to James Blake’s self-titled debut LP. Between two chords, two notes, two words, he just let the song breathe. And instead of becoming boring, that made the album all the more interesting — the wait. It’s all about anticipation, the aural equivalent of watching a Hitchcock movie waiting for the frame to shift.
Here’s something punk taught me — repetition in music does not equal monotony. When done right, repetition can magically both ground music and make it seem transcendental. This is why we love driving bass lines (dun-dun-dun-dun). This is why we love choruses. This is why we love na-na-na-na.
III Non-semitone frequencies
What’s between A and A#? The frequency of A4 is 440 Hz, and the frequency of A#4 is 466 Hz. What’s 450 Hz? How we deal with this is by breaking an octave into 12 semitones and 100 cents. Cents are still discrete, though. (How do you map the frequencies of a guitar string being bent? That’s not discrete.)
So much of the beauty of the album is in these gaps. Sometimes the gaps are temporal (repetition, silence). Sometimes they are frequential. It is these gaps that make music an interactive artform, especially in albums such as this one. These gaps are the blanks you fill with your thoughts.
We all tell ourselves stories, even when we are listening to those of others. In between a fullstop and a capital letter is where you come in. Between the C# and the F of Smells Like Teen Spirit is where you can actually ‘smell’ ‘teen spirit’. This is why going to a club is so often excruciating if you aren’t dancing. “I can’t hear myself think,” you say.
^That is what Sirens is not. It’s an artist telling a story, but allowing you to interlace yours with it. Through conversations between the artist as a squeaky-voiced toddler and his father that form the spine of the album, you are a child looking at the world outside and trying to make sense of it. Through his trademark baritone sprechgesang vocals, you are an adult looking at a world you think you now understand better still struggling to make any sense of it.
My recommendation: pick a night on which you have thirty-eight minutes plus twenty to spend as you choose. Enter ‘nicolas jaar sirens’ into the search bar of your chosen mode of music consumption. Connect your headphones (recommended), earphones, or speakers. Turn out the lights. Close your eyes. Drift away. Tell yourself a story.
And if you like it, do it again and again and again.