It’s as pretty as it is sweaty.
Nicolas Jaar likely gets bored easily. Since his breakout in 2011 with the coldly danceable Space is Only Noise, he hasn’t had even a month off. Though he’s only made two proper full lengths after Space, he graduated from Brown in that time and his slew of EPs filled the musical gap, the Nymph series rivaling his albums in terms of scope and ambition. Not to mention his Darkside project or his continuous tinkering with Daft Punk’s discography under the Daftside moniker. But even with the DJ mixes, festival headlining sets and standalone singles in between, Jaar found time to make a stunningly fun collection of dance tracks under yet another pseudonym—and 2012-2017, a funky, lighthearted side venture, might be his most realized effort in half a decade.
Jaar albums usually have a cold, almost surgical motion, but his latest is loose and strutting. The most entertaining part of 2012-2017 is hearing Jaar pull at his own sound like silly putty, remolding it. Like a precocious kid trying on adult clothes, Jaar fashions sounds out of his peers and idols’ best themes, but matches them in sterling quality. The opening drum clatter of “I Never Dream” is straight out of the Four Tet playbook, a few Aphex Twin style synth wobbles pop up like friendly ghosts. Considering the so fresh, so clean style of “Now U Got Me Hooked,” Jaar ain’t over his Daft Punk affair yet and the later half of the album even has smart nods to American techno gods Frankie Knuckles and Drexciya. Hearing Jaar play with these sounds in real time is an absolute treat. The core giddiness of 2012-2017 comes directly from this imitation and experimentation. But Jaar also knows that he’s ascended to a certain sort of stardom over the ‘10s, and dives further into the warm, fuzzy glide of Outsider House that he helped create. The placid goofballs of the Mood Hut record label wouldn’t be around without Jaar’s influence, and he pays tribute to the rapidly growing genre throughout.
There are complete laugh out loud moments from the sheer joy and insanity on display. “Know You” has hyped up chipmunk vocals and an eyebrow waggling conga line–a not so subtle reminder that if this were the ‘80s, Jaar would absolutely have ridiculous sunglasses on at every show and play the hell out of a vocoder or key-tar. Despite his hipster cred, he loves him some cheese. The lingering figure of vaporwave shows up on the undulating “Flash in the Pan,” which feels like a cheeky nod to the genre as a whole. The wonderfully egotistical “You Are Going to Love Me and Scream” tosses in a bit of South American Cumbia to the proceedings. There’s darkness in the late-night, drive through the city blasting M83 way, but not much somberness. Even the mad scream at the center of “Such a Bad Way” is more “Thriller” camp than actual horror.
“I always find it funny when announcements say something is ‘the first Nicolas Jaar single in three years’, as I’ve put out work under many different names,” Jaar said about the fanfare surrounding A.A.L. That smirking spirit has put a spring in his step and music. With Sirens Jaar combined the synth-punk of Suicide with political fury and Space is Only Noise is still a defining document for Microhouse, but goddamn it’s nice to hear him cut loose. Closer “Rave on U” is a gloriously over the top foot stomper, unraveling over nearly 10 minutes. A joyous, marathon dance session to drop the curtain with and it’s as pretty as it is sweaty. There’s not much of Jaar’s music that’s delivered with a smile, but if this doesn’t put a strut in your step and a goofy grin on your face, we can’t help you.