What is Nicolas Jaar up to? In the past few weeks, he’s let slip two new 12-inch EPs and one alternate soundtrack reworked into an LP. He also pressed a concert DVD of his side project, Darkside, which called it quits last year after one excellent album and a string of some of the best live performances in recent memory. Jaar makes excellent work, but he’s rarely content to sit in one place for long. Once he’s done something well, he moves on.
Both Nymphs II and Nymphs III, the two EPs released this year, showcase the 25-year-old producer’s more structural, beat-oriented side. By contrast, the soundtrack-turned-LP Pomegranates floats by in impressionistic shades. According to the album’s liner notes, Jaar found a unifying point to a swath of unused music when he stumbled upon the experimental Soviet film The Color of Pomegranates. The producer had already planned to call his next collection Pomegranates, and the film locked into the moods he had been conjuring in his recent work. He shaped the music to fit the movie and ended up making an album in two days.
Heard alongside the film or on its own, Pomegranates is a hypnotic experience, longer and more abstract than Jaar’s 2011 debut, Space is Only Noise. He doesn’t rely so much on the voice here, instead letting long passages of ambient noise unfurl and then crash into more concentrated sections. An hour and 16 minutes long, Pomegranates doesn’t always feel like an album or a soundtrack so much as it feels like an experiment in sculpting time.
Many of the record’s early songs excavate texture and space more than melody. The first tangible melodic phrase comes in “Survival”, a sweet and sad song whose synth approximations of timpani feel vaguely nostalgic. Jaar’s patience with his work shows itself in the long pauses between each new sound. He makes us wait for the repetition of the simplest tunes, hoping for something to grasp onto as samples of women either laughing or crying flicker at the bottom of the mix.
Jaar packs the most interesting turns into Pomegranates’ final third. After 45 minutes of earthy noise, “Three Windows” breaks into the celestial, its synthetic and sampled voices yearning upward as if toward God. “Club Kapital” hits with the deep echoes of German techno before giving way to “Volver”, a translucent, meditative track again centered around distant, wordless vocals. And “Spirit”, the last song before the credits roll, layers what sounds like words repeated over and over, a mesh of murmurs too subdued to make out.
In Jaar’s YouTube upload of Sergei Parajanov’s film, these songs play as the poet protagonist inches towards, and then accepts, his death. Like the film itself, which favors a mood-based sequence of images over a strict narrative, Pomegranates deals in the abstract. It is a slow, spacious listen, not meant to be rushed through or relegated to background noise. But its moments of beauty are generous to those who take time with it. Jaar may not release a traditional album on a traditional cycle again, but his experiments on the perimeter seem to point toward something even more fruitful.
Essential Tracks: “Survival”, “Three Windows”, and “Spirit”