Nicolas Jaar: Worst – Best

With the new release of his, up to now, career defining new album, I thought now would be a great time to look back at Nicolas Jaar’s deep discography. Every alias, every single I can find, is getting a place on the list. I’m not including remixes, production credits, or live albums, just Jaar’s own work under his name, Against All Logic, and Darkside. Some EPs or singles you might not find on here because they were later added on to a compilation of some sort, e.g. the Nymphs EPS were compiled on to the Nymphs full length.

20. Edits LP

Edits LP is technically the first Nicolas Jaar album, though this early in the game and I doubt any of the samples were cleared, which lead to a free release. You can’t find this on Spotify or the like, but the bootlegs are on YouTube. Encased are six house tracks and remixes of some well known and some not so well known soul records. The tracks are OK, but it’s definitely rough around the edges and clearly the music of somebody who hasn’t found “their sound.” It’s interesting to hear how Jaar began his journey, but that’s really about it.

19. Random Access Memories Memories (as DaftSide)

Jaar and Dave Harrington are the musical duo known as Darkside. They temporarily changed the project’s name for this very special release. RAMM is a novelty that semi pays off. It’s a remix album of Daft Punk’s (imo) bloated, self-indulgent, overrated Random Access Memories. RAMM has its ups and downs. Harrington’s bass licks over every song and Jaar’s experimental habits give the remix album it’s own identity separate from original record.

RAMM is definitely worth a listen, or at least a skip around. The highlight is their “remix” of “Lose Yourself To Dance.” I think I’m right in saying most of this was made in jest, or at least it was a great campaign to promote the Darkside album that followed just a few months later.

18. Nico’s Bluewave Edits

Bluewave Edits is more music in the same vein of Nico’s debut; more house remix cuts. These tracks must have been made in the same recording period, they sound just and rough and choppy, only the ‘bluewave’ edits are much better than the ones on the LP. Again, you’re not gonna find these on streaming services. Head to YouTube.

17. Lux / Sleeping Ute

Alright, I know I said no remixes, but this one is different. This one is interesting for a few reasons. First of all, Jaar takes singles from two completely different artists, Brian Eno (the elder statesmen of ambient music,) and Grizzly Bear (Indie Rock darlings,) and puts them both on one record. Secondly, he makes these songs feel inseparable. If one was out the other it wouldn’t feel whole. It’s also the most ambient Jaar has ever sounded. It isn’t essential Jaar in any way, but it’s a really interesting corner of his trajectory.

16. Illusions of Shameless Abundance EP (as Against All Logic)

Being the first taster of the new AAL sound this year, Illusions of Shameless Abundance is a radical left turn. AAL was known as Jaar’s alias that was much more identifiably dance, or rhythmic at least, and ‘Illusions’ does have that, but in a much more industrial and harsh way. It’s hardly dance music, but Jaar uses the genre to create something different, almost Aphex Twin-like.

One track features FKA twigs, but she is barely present, and though Jaar had a big hand in producing Twigs’ latest album, a full on Twigs feature on Jaar record is something I would die for. The feature tag is a bit of a tease.

15. Marks & Angles

This three track entry treads more new ground for Jaar. It has loads of little grooves, and glitches, and sound effects. He’s having fun experimenting with sounds you wouldn’t usually hear in dance music, and you’ve got one of the first recorded tracks of him, well, I wouldn’t say singing, but using his voice as an instrument. His hushed, breathy voice adds so much depth to tracks that didn’t even need it. listening to Marks & Angles is like watching a musician create his own narrative in realtime.

14. Love You Gotta Lose Again

Out of all of Jaar’s music that I can dig up, this is the first record that features his unique style of house music you can’t dance to. There are some Jaar-isms that would become canonical and the reason his proper debut, Space Is Only Noise, would become beloved, such as the spoken word, the almost drowsy rhythms, drowned out vocals, it’s all here. It’s not quite as refined, but still mesmerising.

13. 2012-2017 (as Against All Logic)

2012-2017 is overwhelmingly one of the fans’ favourites. It’s beat heavy, soul sampling house music, and it’s the least experimental of his output at around this time. For whatever reason, maybe I had become a custom to his experimental tendencies, I don’t know, but this one had never really clicked with me. There are clearly some incredible highlights, but it’s a bit patchy; the opening track begins with a haunting, eerie sound, then cuts in to a soul sample. It record is not subtle, and to me, sometimes it comes off as a botched cut and paste job.

12. Space Is Only Noise

This is it. This is what formed our high expectations from Jaar from now on, or at least the experimentalism he’d continue pursuing on every release thereafter. Micro-house, live instruments, field recordings, spoken word, playful (but serious?) vocal deliveries; This is the blueprint. It’s an insanely strong album, especially from a guy who was 21 when he made it, but later on in his career he’d come to perfect this sound. Space Is Only Noise is Nicolas Jaar solidifying his name as an auteur in alternative music.

11. Pomegranates

The first time I heard about this project I scoffed. I wondered why some guy up his own arse would think making his own soundtrack to a film completely unconnected to him would be a good idea. Turns out, he wondered that himself in very similar wording. But inspiration comes from different places and I totally understand that. I can be a stubborn guy and I don’t take back a lot of things I say/think, but I can’t deny how beautiful and magical this music is. I’ve only listened to the record solely as a piece of music (sans film,) and it’s largely droney, vocal-less, icy electronic compositions that, every now and then, hit you with a ton of emotions.

10. Issue 9 EP (as Against All Logic)

Devastatingly, I almost missed this EP when compiling the list. This was the one Jaar record I had no idea existed, and based on the name, I thought it might have been a compilation of bands on his label. I didn’t have a clue. Thank god I listened to this. My opinion of Issue 9 might just be because it’s totally fresh to me, but it has shot to the top of my favourites. This is full on club music with Jaar’s now iconic lazy, raspy vocal delivery. I didn’t know Jaar could work within such simple parameters. And again, it clocks in at about 15 minutes. So easy to consume.

9. Nymphs

Made up of 4 EPs released between 2011-2015, Jaar still insists that this is a proper album. It’s a head scratcher as the first two tracks were put out in 2011 on the Don’t Break Me Love EP, then everything else came out a full four years later. The difference between the first two tracks and the rest of the album is day and night. But the jarring difference in production 10 minutes in is the first and last criticism.

This is Jaar’s most dreamlike work, you get sucked in to these wormhole of tracks that are long and ponderous. Nymphs is the perfect record for stargazing. There’s clearly some kind of narrative based on the album name and the specific track titles, but as the record’s largely instrumental, you’re gonna have to figure that out yourself.

8. Russian Dolls [single]

There isn’t particularly anything special about “Russian Dolls,” it’s just so satisfying and unquestionably Jaar. The single is the A side and there’s a remix on the B side. It’s one track that doesn’t really change much. An acoustic guitar that, oddly, sounds unlike anything else, is spliced in to typically Jaar ominous tones until it becomes more and more prevalent and takes over the track. Probably the most undanceable banger ever made.

7. Darkside EP (as Darkside)

Sometimes Jaar reminds me a lot of Burial. They are two completely different musicians, but there are a lot of parallels between their music. Jaar puts out a lot of short releases, whether singles or EPs, just like Burial, and sometimes that’s all you need; it’s all about the vibe and the journey – just like Burial. Never has this been more true on Darkside’s debut release, which might be my favourite EP of the 2010s. The opening track, “A1” is as good (maybe even better) as anything on Darkside’s Psychic.

6. Time For Us / Mi Mujer

Jaar apparently created “Mi Mujer” as a joke. That talented bastard. That’s like if da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa as a joke, or if Coppola made The Godfather for shits and giggles. That might be a little exaggeration, but with a career full bangers, Mi Mujer is the biggest of them all, and he made this when he was 19. “Time For Us” is great too, and this double A side is the peak of Jaar’s pre-Space Is Only Noise club material.

5. 2017-2019 (as Against All Logic)

The first of two full length releases Jaar would release in 2020, this one is the more beat heavy, anti-dance music. 2017-2019 is much different to the previous AAL full length, this time the beats are more industrial, less catchy, and the samples aren’t as obvious. It’s not as accessible as it’s predecessor but the more you give, the more you get out of it. 2017-2019 is full on abrasive, completely original in Jaar’s catalogue, and that’s one of the reasons why I see this as a tent pole in his career. Also, I so wanna know how much that Beyoncé sample cost him.

4. The Essential Mix (BBC Edit)

There’s an argument to be made that this shouldn’t be on the list, not to mention as high as fourth place. Less so than even a remix, this is not original music from Jaar. But if it wasn’t for The Essential Mix, we wouldn’t have the below song, one of the best and classy mash-ups in the last 20 years. The two hour mix is full of moments like this. In fact, all his mixes that he’s put out here and there over the past 10 years deserve places on the list. Let’s just say The Essential Mix represents them all.

3. Cenizas

Cenizas is the newest release from Nico and it delivers on so many levels. It defines the past ten years of his musical career. It is significantly lacking in rhythms and that repetitive house, but it is totally hypnotic in an entirely different way. It’s almost like a soundscape. I’ve been listening to the record to fall asleep to a lot.

This is a dense piece of work, sometimes he sings in English, sometimes he sings in Spanish. Sometimes he doesn’t sing at all, and just lets the music speak for itself. That’s one thing I love about him that I haven’t mentioned – his music tells a story almost more than the words.

2. Sirens

After releasing several dense, largely instrumental and isolating projects, Jaar returned after just a few months of releasing a whole slew of records to put out his most “song” album to date. All the songs feature vocals, all have rhythms, and it was the first to be released without any kind of gimmick (fake film soundtrack, collecting singles spanning years.) Having said that, he did release it twice. The first release was six tracks, and it didn’t honestly feel complete.

One year later he released the album again, but this time with 9 tracks. They weren’t just tacked on bonus tracks, these songs are well sequenced and interspersed throughout the album. Maybe he felt the album was never complete the first time, but if that’s so, why would he release it to begin with? There’s a lot of mystery surrounding Jaar, and his album releases are super confusing. That goes for Nymphs, Pomegranates, and Sirens.

This was Rolling Stone’s number one album of 2016, and that’s probably the first time I’ve ever agreed with Rolling Stone.

1. Psychic (as Darkside)

Without a doubt, Psychic is the most dense, interesting, and it’s the most psychedelic thing Jaar’s done. There’s a narrative told by the music as it starts out almost apocalyptic, but by the end, is incredibly calming. Psychic is such a hard album to summarize, it’s one that refuses to be pinned down to any specific thing. It’s the most instrumental Jaar release, it’s quietly chaotic, with micro-house that sounds distant, fuzzy feedback noises, and Dave Harrington’s haunting bass. Psychic is almost prog rock.

It remains the only Darkside album to date, and I pray to god they join forces in the future to create something. It doesn’t even have to sound like this because I fully believe when these two get together, whatever it is they do, it’s gunna be magic.

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