Album Review: A.A.L. (Against All Logic) - 2012 - 2017

Album Reviews
04/04/2018
Dusty Henry

A lot of life can happen within five years. It’s enough time to go to school, get married, have some kids, get in debt, make money, screw things up, or get your shit together. The number might not carry the same oomph as the term “decade," but it’s enough time for an individual to already see changes in themselves when looking back. Not just physical or emotional changes observable by your peers, but the quiet metamorphosis that happens within all of us whether we even notice it ourselves or not. With Nicolas Jaar’s latest release under his A.A.L. (Against All Logic) moniker, 2012 - 2017 (out now via his label Other People), he turns those years of searching into yet another opus in his already brilliant catalog. 

When Jaar released 2012 - 2017 in February, he did so with almost no notice or attempt to get notice. A.A.L. isn’t a new moniker for the producer, but not one that was known to most casual fans prior to his latest release. If works under his given name and projects like Darkside are Spider-Man and Wolverine, A.A.L. is more akin to Marvel’s U.S. Agent (if you had to look that one up, that’s the point). But the use of this more obscure name doesn’t feel arbitrary, especially considering the music Jaar has released under his other aliases over the last five years like the looming, spacious beauty of Sirens and avant garde soundtracks like Pomegranates to the telekinetic, spiraling energy of Darkside’s Psychic. The songs on A.A.L.’s first full-length feel like they come from another musical world. While Jaar has embraced house and dance elements in his music before, never has he covered the genres in such breadth and with so much confidence than he does with 2012 - 2017

If the title’s to be believed, these songs likely have been culled from work he’s crafted between 2012 and 2017. That these songs parallel Jaar’s, for lack of a better word, “darker” works released during that same time tells its own story. This A.A.L. release beams with life. From the first clipping notes of “This Old House Is All I Have” that will make you question if your headphones are working properly, the record poses itself as a physical experience. When “This Old House” finally does open up with it’s soul grooves, you can feel Jaar emitting a part of himself that not only wasn’t heard on hazier works like Sirens but wouldn’t have a place there. It’s easy to buy into the maxim that “everyone contains multitudes,” but rarely do you get to see it played in such a tangible way. He flips David Axelrod and Mike James Kirkland into hypnotic strut, like the opening scroll to a 70s cop flick mixed with a sweaty, underground dance party. 

 

And just when you get locked into the vibe he’s creating, Jaar shifts gears into a jubilant fervor with “I Never Dream.” It’s the breeziest and most joyful he’s sounded on a record in years. Filtered vocal samples fade in and out throughout the track, twisting and turning in on themselves at times. Even when playing this record in solitary moments, it’s almost impossible not to feel the rapturous spirit Jaar exudes. It’s a theme that he reappears across the album – somehow capturing that impossible energy from an electric DJ set and putting it into over an hour of life-giving music. Even in it’s more brooding moments like “Hopeless” and “Cityfade,” he maintains a steady BPM to keep the flow of the record from dragging. The record is a wonder of sequencing almost as it is for its expert production. 

The songs on the record are remarkably textured as well, like the aforementioned blurts of noise on the opening track. Jaar lets the songs crackle and crunch in the mix, utilizing the limitations of volume to reveal themselves. Where house and electronic music have the unique advantage of being easily polished by design, Jaar allows these “sonic flaws” to dictate the feel of the record. Some of the songs feel like they’re being played from a banged up PA that the DJ borrowed from a friend’s friend who used to DJ “back in the day.” It makes the drums on songs like “Flash in the Pan” hit harder, for sure, but it’s the emotional response that it elicits that’s the real advantage. It creates a sense of space, exciting your imagination. You can feel the walls shaking as he builds up the closer “Rave On U.” You can almost even feel the mood of the room changing like you would if Jaar dropped this in a set at a house party. 

 

The use of a different name makes it easy to separate 2012 - 2017 from the rest of Jaar’s work and, who knows, maybe that’s the intention. But when you remove those boundaries and look at it in the larger context of his work as a whole, 2012 - 2017 doesn’t just stand out as one of his best – it pulls back the veil on who Jaar is as an artist. He can embrace the obtuse and still want to throw a kickass dance party, and those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive either. 

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