Posted by: Necci – Feb 25, 2011
I can't for the life of me figure this record out. Damaged art pop in minimal techno clothes? Po-mo pastiche that's too unfocused to coalesce but is just weird enough not to fall apart completely? Somewhere on a wildly varying sliding scale between amazing and bullshit, Space Is Only Noise draws from enough reference points that it almost blurs them into a singular, uncategorizable entity. At its most indistinct, it works. But some of those influences rear their ugly little heads a little too clearly over the course of the album and prevent it from reaching its full potential.
It's hard to tell which is more frustrating: how great the good elements of the album are, or how horrible the bad ones. Because there are spectacular moments. The Erik Satie/Oval collision of opener “Être” and closer “^Tre.” The cryptic melancholia of “Too Many Kids Finding Rain In The Dust,” which floats along like Eno in '76 before horror-movie strings sneak up to ruin the navel-gazing. The eerie percussion on “Sunflower” that manages to approximate the sound of rain trickling down a pane of glass without coming off like something from the Windham Hill back catalog.
But then there are the weak moments. “Colomb” mixes breathy French vocals, sparse Rhodes tinkling and the sort of beat that was flogged to death by a million or so trip-hop producers in the early '90s, then resurrected and beaten to death again by whoever it is that concocts the music for the elevators in expensive department stores. “I Got A Woman” swipes a Ray Charles hook and drops it on top of some downbeat electronics like a slightly updated Primitive Radio Gods, as if the world needed that. And then there are the (relatively) uptempo songs: “Problems With The Sun” sounds like Zapp & Roger after a few bottles of Robitussin, and the album's title track comes off like a sketch comedy show making fun of Joy Division and failing miserably.
The album's shortcomings have one thing in common, namely that they were all relatively revolutionary techniques, which were overused far past the point of cliché. It's hard to know whether to hold that against Jaar, who, at twenty years old, was about to start kindergarten when most of his source material stopped being remotely relevant. The real shame with this album is how infrequently Jaar is able to subsume his influences into his own aesthetic; because when he succeeds, the results are excellent. While this record is far from perfect, it is an auspicious entry into this young artist's output. Hopefully, Jaar's ability to process and synthesize his influences will sharpen, and he can craft material that's less beholden to styles that have long ago run their respective courses.
By Graham Scala