Against All Logic: 2017-2019 Album Review

Against All Logic is a new alias used by Chilean-American composer and musician, Nicolas Jaar. Jaar became well-known for his dance/club records produced in the late 2000’s, but since his first official album, Space is Only Noise (2011), he has taken a more experimental approach to a lot of his music. Most recently, with the creation of his new alias, he released a compilation of old, abandoned dance and IDM projects, titled 2012-2017 (2018). I don’t think him, or anyone else, expected the amazing critical reaction it would then receive, or at least the extent to which is went. Pitchfork called it “one of the best albums of the year,” and famous music reviewer theneedledrop put it in his top 10 albums of 2018 as well. Whether it was due to the critical acclaim, or not, Jaar has put out another record under the alias, titled 2017-2019 (2020). Many, including myself, were curious if it could match the level of his last record. For me, it came pretty close.

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2017-2019 is a continuation of a lot of Jaar’s trends on 2012-2017, only this time, it has a bit more of an experimental edge to it. The project sounds like standard nightclub material, but listens like IDM, in all of its interesting transitions and focus on mood. The product, after it’s finished, is a very accessible intro to IDM music. The only thing it may lack is the individual highs of his previous work.

The record starts off with several sets of distorted, almost metallic-sounding string chords at the beginning of the track, “Fantasy,” giving it a bit of an ominous tone. About thirty-seconds later, you hear what sounds like a record scratching, but not quite, before transitioning to the song itself. The meat of the track is composed of deep bass beats, and the original record scratch you hear — repeated throughout — that both sound like they’re being played from a blown-out speaker. Over the top of that, you’re given a variety of percussive elements; from cymbal crashes to loud claps; and persistent, bright, smooth synth lines as well. The only lyrics are a few different samples (I’m not entirely sure if they’re sampled but it sounds like it); “Stay on my mind, think about you all the time,” and “You’re my fantasy” being the main two. What makes this song not a simple/straight dance track, and this a consistently-unique album, is the long break the piece takes. About one-and-a-half-minutes in, everything flies away and Jaar leaves you in the room with a pulsating hum, and some digital skittering. It’s actually quite creepy. As an intro track, I think it does a good job giving you a lot of the things you’ll eventually see on the record, and it’s a good song on its own as well.

Rather than fiddle with an introduction of any kind, the next track, “If Loving You Is Wrong,” jumps right in with its gorgeous instrumental. The beat isn’t incredibly unique, and could probably find itself on a number of IDM tracks, but is still quite fun and beautiful. It reminds me of something you’d find on one of Boards of Canada’s more vibrant songs. This song is also much shorter and consistent than the last, in all of its trends. Besides the main, melodic tones, it’s driven by a simple hi-hat, and bass beat — less involved than most of the percussion in the last track. It features different samples of the same person/song, whereas the last track seemed to sample at least three different people’s voices. And the only real transition it has is towards the last minute of the track, where the beat gets more consistent, grows louder, and you get a few extra elements; the synths returning, and what sounds like feedback as well, only used in a way that it creates its own tune. I would say this track is a lot more normal of IDM, but is still interesting and enjoyable to listen to.

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Album cover for 2018 album, 2012-2017.

“With an Addict,” takes the consistent progression of “If Loving You Is Wrong,” and pairs it with the much longer, sometimes more-chaotic style of “Fantasy.” A majority of the track is just a numerous amount of changing, driving beats; sometimes sounding like bongo drums and cowbells, and other times almost reminiscent of trap snares; over a Minecraft-esque accompaniment. With lo-fi piano chords, and distant, calming ringing, it’s very atmospheric with its melody. But it does stray from this occasionally. When the vocal samples start coming in, the beats fade to the background, and it’s just the atmosphere, and the repetition of “With an addict,” and “And ya don’t stop.” I imagine it’s meant to put more focus on these words, and get them in your head. But as they grow in repetition, they grow in volume as well, until the beat is placed back in, and you’re back where you started. I wouldn’t say this track is unsettling or foreboding, but I don’t think the calm nature of the near-video-game-soundtrack is all that’s there. The ambiguous meaning of the words and overly-fast-paced beats make it more thought-provoking.

The album then takes a stark mood-turn with, “If You Can’t Do It Good, Do It Hard.” As I’ve mentioned, previously, there were a few darker tones on some parts of some tracks, but on the fourth song, it finally steers right into it. “If You Can’t Do It Good,” never strays away from its basic elements, focusing on a very strong, unrelenting bass behind a very Nine Inch Nails, industrial instrumental. The only thing resembling a shift is its addition of artificial, distorted feedback before putting in the final vocal sample; an anger-filled “If you can’t do it good, do it hard. Because if you can’t beat em, kill em, if you can’t kill em, fuck em…” While I don’t think it fits under the umbrella entirely, I would probably classify this as some sort of industrial rock or some subgenre of metal. I suppose it could be “industrial dance music” if that exists, but the pure, dark, aggressive ambiance is definitely startling coming off of the first three tracks.

This only continues on “Alarm.” Despite being less than two minutes, this song seems to last forever at times, just due to its, well, alarming nature. Behind a very twisted, almost Undertale-like trio of piano notes, is a destructive bass, and a diverse set of metal clanging. It’s as if someone placed a trap banger of a beat, behind someone smashing pots and pans, all in the middle of a video game. The end result is something that should either be the soundtrack of a chase scene to someone’s death, or a montage of people beating the crap out of other people.

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Album cover to one of my favorite IDM albums, Music Has the Right to Children, by Boards of Canada.

These new, horrific themes, shift from video games, to the nightclub, on “Deeeeeeefers.” Taking the claustrophobic, intense, wall of sound approach to rave-like dance music, “Deeeeeeefers,” largely wouldn’t be noticed as anything different from a typical dance-craze anthem. But next to the wall of throbbing “wubs” and unstoppable booms seems to be some sort of horror scene. While they only temporarily show themselves, there are numerous squeals and squeaks — none of them pleasant — alongside some heavy, periodic breathing that enters your eardrums unannounced. I doubt there’s any exact meaning behind all of it, but it reminds me of the shrieking of car brakes, and perhaps someone completely out of breath. Whatever it all is, it creates a fear-filled ride to accompany the otherwise-very-standard noise of the night life.

Although with a more subtle approach, “Faith” continues the menacing nature of the past couple of tracks, until it shifts back to some of the bliss we were given beforehand. “Faith” starts off with a deep, perpetual hum behind a few static screams, and quiet, but intense bass beat. However, after about a minute in this semi-scary habitat, the beat picks up, going much quicker, and brightening up a bit as well. Immediately afterwards, we’re met with angelic vocals that drive the music for several minutes. Finally, those vocals fade away into a row of synths that accomplish much of the same, and continue throughout the track, until the very end, where everything leaves in favor of an empty, but serene background, full of chimes and bells.

We continue to crawl out of the depths we were placed in, as “Penny” begins. “Penny” is pretty standard for both dance and IDM music with a lot of the individual tools it uses, but uses them together to create something that’s the opposite of standard. Nothing truly flashy goes on in this track. It’s a pretty simple, digital bass, with some hi-hat-like drivers; something anyone with a computer could come up with. But with the addition of a blissful, spliced-together melody, it comes together much like an IDM track, with the pace of traditional club music. The main highlight is a very vivid, two-note guitar sample that shines above it all, which somehow adds an enormous amount of substance. The end result is something that, normally, you’d find on a very atmospheric IDM record, but it’s so energetic that it doesn’t get stale, and becomes much more individually enjoyable.

Finally, the concluding song “You (Forever),” much like “Fantasy,” is a good combination of many of this album’s themes, but is a completely different track by itself. First, it’s much slower. The pace is more like “Faith,” focusing on long, drawn-out chords and synth lines that slowly progress. But that being said, the song doesn’t really ever stay in one place. It utilizes several vocal samples, squeaks that sound like they’re from a gym floor, background crashes and distorted pounds; towards the middle, the bass line increases heavily, until it’s just about all you can hear; and then it finally fades out to nothing. I couldn’t place my finger on one specific mood or theme inside of this song, but instead, it squishes everything Jaar has used so far, onto one track; with a more tortoise-like approach, to juxtapose the hare of “Fantasy.” It’s really a nice, pleasing conclusion to an IDM album, as much as I often hate fade-out endings. Because of the context of the record, it’s fitting.

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Overall, 2017-2019 is an IDM record disguised as a club-friendly mix, or maybe vice versa. It takes several pieces of normalized dance music, and throws them into the context of a more atmospheric project, as a whole. It also balances both sides from a flow-perspective. Most of these tracks are energetic enough on their own to be played and enjoyed, unlike a majority of IDM tracks, that find themselves as pieces of a wholistic puzzle. Instead, there is certainly an overarching puzzle of some sort. There are definite mood transitions throughout the whole of the album, with the center being much darker than the rest. But each track, due to the more mainstream-friendly bass line and percussion pieces, can be played by itself. The main thing I have to say against it, is I don’t think it has the same highs as his last project, 2012-2017. Several tracks on there I listen to to this day. And while I’m sure I’ll continue this album in my rotation for a while, I don’t know if it’ll last two years. I’m thinking a solid 8/10.

Favorite Track(s): “Fantasy,” “Deeeeeeefers,” “If Loving You Is Wrong”

Least Favorite Track(s): “Penny”

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