Album Review: Nicolas Jaar – Telas

[Other People; 2020]

Nicolas Jaar is having an extremely fruitful 2020. Telas is his third full-length released this year, after the second Against All Logic album and his fifth album under his own name, Cenizas. It also seems as though with each of these releases the Chilean is becoming more idiosyncratic – and, perhaps for many, impenetrable. AAL’s 2017-2019 was certainly more brash and less house-party-friendly than the preceding 2012-2017; Cenizas did away with the polychromatic synth anthems of his previous album Sirens, and now on Telas he has presented us with four tracks, each around 15 minutes in length and without any overt structure.

All that really means, though, is that Telas is inviting you to get lost inside of it – in fact, it almost seems to be demanding it of you. These four songs are like four corners of a triangle-based pyramid – you can turn it, flip it and approach it from any angle and it will always stand up the same way; sturdy and mystical.

Jaar was not alone in the creation of Telas. He invited Milena Punzi to play cello and Susanna Gonzo to add some scant vocals, and, perhaps most importantly, he involved Anna Ippolito and Marzio Zorio, creators of unique and unusual instruments which add so much to Telas’ soundscape.

Telas is, in a way, an answer to Cenizas. Where the former album’s title translated to “ashes”, this one means “fabric”, and is about rebuilding a new world in the wake of the burning down of the old one. With this concept in mind, the unique sounds of Telas do indeed start to feel like the very fabric of a new universe very slowly pulling itself together – but what we’re experiencing is close to the dawn of this new existence, and everything is still a long way from its final form.

Human voices are extremely minimal, usually whispered, and sound more like echoes of the prior world; Telas is still in a primordial state, with no intelligent life – that’s where the intriguing instrumentation comes in. There are textures that are familiar from previous Jaar releases, but this is by far his most tactile album yet, with many hollow and physical sounds from objects that are hard to picture. He provides plenty of synth beds and spare piano lines that seem to flutter out of the ether, but the most in-focus sounds across Telas are these most unusual ones.

 There’s grumbling like tectonic plates brushing against each other “Telahora”, chirping like luminous gas bubbles popping on “Telencima”, and the susurration of snow melting on mountain tops on “Telahumo”. By the time there start to be some more explicitly melodic segments towards in the final stages of the album, it feels like a natural step in the slowly developing movement. But, these descriptions are of mere moments in the vast planes of Telas. Across the album, there are literally dozens more other completely indescribable sounds that populate the environment, which are always immediately ear-catching – and often gone before you know it, never to return. Listening to Telas feels as if you are standing in this newly reborn world, gradually acclimatising to the new light, wildlife and gravity it possesses, completely over-awed by how alien-yet-peaceful it all is.

For all these reasons, it’s hard to review Telas as an album. It feels much more like it was meant to be experienced as an installation, something that you could put on in a big room and walk around while viewing accompanying visuals – something that is attempted digitally through the site created by Abeera Kamran. Telas is something that has to be focussed on, and is best enjoyed as a solo journey with no distractions. It’s even very difficult to imagine Jaar fitting any of these songs into a live show, as they’re too protracted and delicate to stand up in that space. Regardless, Telas continues to display his determination to explore completely new realms, even if that means sacrificing moments that immediately jump out, like a beat or a hook or even a repeated melody. This is one for the intrepid sonic explorers, unafraid to enter a world that doesn’t cohere to any structure they’ve known before – and if you go in with that mindset, there’s plenty to be unearthed.