In July last summer, I attended Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, and on the final day of the fest I was faced with a classic festival dilemma: ending the day with a set from emo math rock legends American Football or with a set from eclectic experimental producer Nicolas Jaar. While I…appreciate American Football’s one good album they released almost two decades ago, I figured Jaar’s set would be one of the more energetic and lively shows I could experience at a festival mostly known for showcasing acclaimed (by Pitchfork) indie music, so I opted with the latter.
In a sense, I made the right choice; Jaar’s set was surely the more energetic and “danceable” option of the two. It wasn’t, however, exactly what I expected it to be, even as someone with some degree of familiarity with his music. Unlike most electronic festival sets, Jaar didn’t cycle through his catalog and simply provide an hour of buildups and drops, nor did he ask anyone to “put their hands up” or really interact with the crowd at all. The first twenty minutes of his show was essentially one long, intense buildup, a subtly pulsating sound blanket of ambient noise leading to one of the most satisfying peaks I think I’ll ever experience live. It was easily one of my favorite sets of the entire festival, and solidified Jaar’s place for me as one of few producers whose individual works each deserve my immediate attention.
And yet, despite this resolution I made to closely follow each of Nicolas Jaar’s upcoming projects, this latest album of his completely fell through the cracks for me until I saw Pitchfork mention it a week after its release. To be fair, Jaar didn’t really do much to advertise it: there was no social media hype, no singles leading up to its release, and most importantly, it was released under a different moniker most are probably unfamiliar with as of now: Against All Logic (A.A.L). Projects under his own name and his side band Darkside have garnered considerable buzz in the past, so to see this new album debut so quietly is perplexing, to say the least. Whoever was in charge of promoting this release truly did a terrible job, and it’s a shame, because 2012-2017 is one of the most refreshing experimental electronic albums to come out in recent memory.
Based on the title, one would assume that 2012-2017 is simply a collection of loose ideas from an endlessly tinkering producer who didn’t know what to do with them. However, much like the similarly titled Selected Ambient Works 85-92 from legendary electronic mastermind Aphex Twin (who Jaar clearly takes inspiration from), this record is less a scrapbook of sketches and more a collection of tracks that represent the versatility of Jaar’s sound. Past projects like Space is Only Noise or Sirens released under is name worked well to capture a specific aesthetic, with all the tracks flowing into each other to fill out a sense of consistency. Listening to this record in one sitting makes it clear why he chose to release it under a different name; it is meant to be appreciated in a completely different context than the work he has come to be known for.
However, 2012-2017 isn’t necessarily uncharted territory for the Brown-educated Chilean producer. After all, he broke into the mainstream as a techno producer, with early hits like “Mi Mujer” or “El Bandido” still accumulating significantly more plays than songs from the experimental albums that have garnered him critical acclaim. This collection of tracks is certainly more accessible than his most recent releases, but also incorporates the experimentation most would now expect from a Nicolas Jaar project. Take, for example, the opening track, “This Old House is All I Have”. It starts with a distorted vocal sample, moved along by noisy bursts of what appear to be pretty heavily processed brass hits, seamlessly transitioning into a guitar driven soul groove. These heavy bass thuds continue throughout the track, and certainly clash with the smooth instrumentation, adding an odd sense of urgency to what would have otherwise been an enjoyable but forgettable beat. Jaar walks the line between danceability and experimentation throughout much of the record, but for the most part, the grooves in 2012-2017 are undeniable.
While it isn’t Jaar’s most cohesive project, 2012-2017 is yet another addition to the discography of a producer who not only is dead set on mastering his craft to the fullest extent, but can also have fun while doing it. Those who may find his other work pretentious or patience-testing would likely still understand the appeal of this record. There’s really not much to dislike about it; it’s a record which doesn’t really try to reinvent the wheel, but simultaneously brings more life and flavor to a genre which many would argue is becoming (or has been) more and more uniform.