Nicolas Jaar’s ‘Telas’ is abrasive, surreal soundtrack for solitude

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Grade: 3.5/5.0

Nicolas Jaar is, in music terms, a 21st century jack-of-all-trades. The Chilean American experimental musician’s daringly avant-garde and widely varying compositions have carved new spaces for him in the genres of electronic pop, deep house and ambient music

Having already released two albums in 2020, Jaar’s output continues to be one of a kind, not settling into any particular sound. His first album of the year under his dancefloor moniker Against All Logic was chaotic techno for the new decade; his second, Cenizas, a remarkable LP full of haunting, disorienting melodies and ruminations on isolation. Telas, Jaar’s newest album, is full of ambient music that reaches further into the realm of the experimental than his work ever has before. It sounds unlike anything else you are likely to hear this year.

Telas, translated from Spanish as “fabrics,” is surreal in its sound and feel. Across four evenly balanced tracks, Jaar produces an hour of decidedly introverted music that tests the limits of synthetics with cerebral textures that border on abrasive. Traditional conceptions of melody are also taken to their extremes with hyperdynamic musical passages that morph into unrecognizable versions of themselves. The “fabrics” of sound that Jaar plays with on Telas evoke themes of construction and creation, pushing sonic boundaries to explore their innermost elements of euphoria.

Released July 17, Telas was produced in parts over the course of four years. The album features a plethora of inventive new sounds, including custom instruments from collaborators Mario Zorio and Anna Ippolito. In addition to the album, Jaar released the interactive website Telas.Parts, in which the music from the LP is represented in its “liquid form.” Created with artists Somnath Bhatt and Abeera Kamran, the site acts as a sort of art exhibition, with various lines and symbols traversing gray space, evoking the image of early signs of life swimming in primordial ooze.

The compositions of Telas are spacious and minimalist, gestating and mutating over their long runtimes. Opener “Telahora” begins with blaring horns and spinal, crackling percussive sounds, creating dissonance that is later resolved by flickering guitar and light atmospheric notes. Glitchy, grating electronic noises flutter throughout the track as it shifts forms various times, giving way to airy chanting and sharp pangs in its final section. The following track,“Telencima,” twinkles and whirs, sounding like the most abstract musical equivalent of rainfall. Here, Jaar deconstructs the pleasing qualities of atmospheric music, reassembling it into something sporadically beautiful. These tracks effectively create a constantly evolving soundscape, evoking feelings of awe and discovery. 

In its second half, the album finds its most evocative moments. The closing stretch of “Telahumo” is breathtaking with its arpeggiated synthesizer sounds rising out of empty space. Well earned by the time it arrives, “Telahumo” is the recond’s one definitive moment of music in its most traditional form, awash in ethereal bliss before the slate is wiped clean for the final track,“Telallás.” With what can only be described as the skeletal origins of a rhythm section, the closing track bookends an otherworldly collection of free-forming ideas with the album’s most intricate arrangement, before slowly returning to stillness. 

Jaar’s refusal to prioritize any one element over another is Telas’ defining virtue. The album works only as a unified piece, each track an amalgamation of seemingly random compositions coming together to form an abstract whole. The album intentionally lacks any specific individual elements to isolate, better suited for a more complete active listening experience akin to visiting an art installation. Understandably, the process of instruments making radical transformations slowly over the course of an hour may not sound appealing to everyone. 

On its surface, Telas can appear challenging and jarring. Casual listeners may have difficulty finding anything substantial or euphoric to take away from Jaar’s latest album, and it’s hard to imagine someone wanting to blast any of the tracks over loudspeakers when given the aux cord. However, this is music for solitude, full of surprises when closely examined in quiet, contemplative hours. Under the microscope, Telas has plenty of bountiful rewards, creating a new space within experimental music that, to Jaar’s credit, feels limitless. 

Contact Vincent Tran at [email protected].