In a sea of autumn releases that have been marked by their abrasive tendencies or attempts to subvert genre expectations, it's a relief to find a record with a more singular focus. Predominantly working as an exercise in building anticipation, Nicolas Jaar's latest manages to be rewarding where it might otherwise have felt withholding. Starting with the paradoxically gentle sound of breaking glass, Jaar takes his time to draw you into his World (it has been a while since his last full release after all), building a carefully layered atmosphere rather than rushing to greet his fans. That's not to say there aren't tracks with more immediate kicks–'The Governor' springs to mind–but rather that to fully digest Sirens, you have to be willing to take it piece by piece.
Where this record really excels is in its patience. Rather than rush an idea, Jaar takes as much time as is necessary, and while certain elements of a track may fall away relatively quickly, others swell and recur in a way that suggests a deftness of craft. Opening with the eleven minute track 'Killing Time' is Jaar's way of laying out his modus operandi, a self-assured statement about the kind of music he enjoys making. As an electronic musician who found a great deal of crossover appeal with the indie music crowd, Sirens manages to steer clear of the potential pitfalls this entails. Rather than catering to perceived expectations, Jaar has made the record he wanted to, a cohesive statement in a time where audiences are having an increased impact on artists in every medium.
This cohesion continues in the construction of the album itself,with each track acting as a convenient stopping point rather than a real break in tone; a chapter in a short novel rather than a simply episodic journey. On paper this might suggest lack of definition, but given the metamorphosis each track goes through it's far more indicative of the record's wealth of ideas. Jaar has clearly approached this work as a whole rather than as separate units, which has to be admired at a time when the album seems to be fading away. Admittedly, the poetic melody of final track 'History Lesson' does feel slightly out of pace, but it works as a closer thanks to Jaar's soulful crooning, a gentle end to a record that occasionally edges towards being obtuse.
Outside of 'History Lesson' the use of vocals on Sirens is very much an extension of Jaar's previous work, if a little more prominent than his past few releases. Singing on a predominantly ambient record can often feel like an attempt to breach more popular audiences, or to at least provide an unnecessary respite from the album's more abstract ideas. Fortunately, Jaar manages to use vocals in a manner which augments rather than limits the record's experimentation. In much the same way as in bands like My Bloody Valentine or Diiv, the vocals become an instrument, more important for their texture rather than their content.
Jaar has spoken relatively openly about the pressure he felt when producing a follow up to his hugely successful debut record, which goes some way to explaining his handful of EP releases and his work on Dheepan. What's refreshing about Sirens then, is that it doesn't ever feel like it's aiming to be an all time classic record. Though there is an abundance of thought and talent on display, it somehow remains small in focus, sidestepping the sophomore slump by strolling past it nonchalantly. Sirens might not make it to the upper tiers of many end of the year lists, but, for that reason, it feels like a much more intimate experience.
By Blaise Radley | Loose Lips
a1) Killing Time
a2) The Governor
a5) Three Sides Of Nazareth
a6) History Lesson