Album Review: Telas // Nicolás Jaar

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It has been a busy year for Nicolás Jaar. The producer returned to his roots with a mid-tempo industrial noise album in February, before turning that on its head with Cenizas in March. This had always been a part of the plan, it seems. The gloomy latter piece was rendered a detox of negativity – one last hack to soak it all in and purge any residual bad vibes. And rightly so. Where else could the artist have gone, having already dug around the limits of texture, space and sound? 

Telas (which means fabrics) took a little more time to be realised, to process that long, trawling dirge of Cenizas (ashes) and come up with a response. The new album is built as a four-part concept, roughly the same length as the last but with a greater focus on order and construction: 13 songs become four, visual minimalism is swapped out for detail, and so on… Perhaps here we find the significance of ‘fabrics’ in the constant, weaving state of creation. The artist describes the record as a panspermic terrain where particles travel through space […] where no matter has a solid or immovable origin.”

And hence the album lies in direct antithesis to the last, taking a deliberate step away from the drab landscape of Cenizas and leaning into its optimistic new horizons. In softer moments, choral undulations reminiscent of the last record guide the process, but the aim seems to be to do something different with them. Indeed, the album finds itself a new narrative set on building a new world; the purpose of self-annihilation last time around was in the name of achieving something greater, it seems. This is the end goal. Slowly, carefully, Nicolás Jaar puts the pieces back together.

Telas, then, fills the role of sequel. ‘Faith Made of Silk’ wrapped up the angst of the last album, setting up Telas to rise from the ashes. The ambient soundscape feels post-apocalyptic but without a sense of catastrophe. It lacks the drama of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, for example. ‘The end’, instead, seems to symbolise a return to nature, lit up by storms and occasional violent noises, but lacking the cold organisation of human influence. In sum, Telas looks to rebuild from the known, through chaos and back towards order, stripping back overgrown layers of complexity and working on a true synthesis of old and new. 

The shaky foundations of new life come together little by little, laying on a careful blend of natural and digital noises. Contributions from Milena Punzi (cello) and Susanna Gonzo (vocals) give the sounds poise. In ‘Telahora’ we are introduced to a new world, still humming from the last. Sounds are simple and discrete, some ordered and others faint and uncertain. ‘Telencima’ manages to move on entirely from familiar patterns, interspersing background chatter with curious artificial voices. Instrument makers Anna Ippolito and Marzio Zorio, as well as Heba Kadry (mastering), are perhaps behind the richness of personality given to these digital sounds. Indeed, there are nods to the artificial landscapes of previous albums, but Telas feels worlds away from the physics of repetition, distortion and focus. 

By the midpoint, the album picks up a little, draws together some of its resources and starts forming patterns. ‘Telahumo’ – humo meaning smoke – plays off textures well, relying less on percussion and putting together a series of constants that sound more like music. Civilisation! Features enter, play their part and disappear, all sewn together into the new order. The author says: Telas is the “ancestral pollination between symbiotic lovers”, tied up in metaphors of spider webs, silk, mist and ritual: “Cenizas was the ashes of a destruction; Telas is the fabrics of a construction.”

The pompous conclusion is that Telas is an album that will either be understood or not. More mildly, it makes itself hard to compare. To be clear, what Telas sets out to achieve it does very well. It passes on its own terms. But it is an experience that requires a certain commitment. It is difficult to review something so far removed from everything else. Cenizas was written in “self-imposed quarantine”, locked away from drink and drugs and set to a mood of necessity. Telas has had a little more room to think, time to enunciate its exact intentions and to create something precise, albeit at the expense of accessibility. An offhand three out of five seems to miss the point. Urgh.

The album ends on an uncertain note, slowing down the record to a steady drum beat and reinstating the human inflection. And it’s strange. In some ways, the moody plod of conventional instruments share more similarity with the start of the last album (see: ‘Menysid’). I wonder how intentional this was. Is this the fate of all attempts to self-recreate? Is this the natural state of being: an inverted tendency away from entropy, towards the comfortable and familiar? A strange and inconclusive record, Telas invites more questions than it provides answers. 

Words by James Reynolds


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