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White Noise: Nosaj Thing – Drift

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Nosaj Thing – Drift

Jason Chung is definitely out to do something different. Although closely associated with the Low End Theory club in LA and other LA beat-crafters Flying Lotus, Baths and Teebs, Nosaj Thing draws influences from further afield than his hip hop-headed brothers. This album takes in a large sweep of UK post-dubstep and some of the most scientist-precise beats since Aphex Twin last did anything worthwhile, and in doing so he crafts an album with moments of brilliance that are unfortunately too spaced out to really form a great LP.

Opener Quest sets the scene with a gauzey synth line, crafting a dark ambient soundscape until a twinkling melody comes in and the beats snap along in time with drifting background vocals. And seriously, these beats snap. These are some of the sharpest and most satisfying beats I've heard in a long while, and after this short instrumental they show their true colours. Second track Fog shows that this night-time electro world of paranoia and creeping melodies is here to stay. A beat effectively made of a sample of Chung's own chopped up voice drives the track along with a pulsing drumkit, and meanwhile a simple but haunting synth line winds beside the track, either bestowing the track with a frightening darkness or a slightly cheesy 80s haunted house feel. Whichever vibe you get, it works.

The album actually continues fairly well, the running set of the first 4 tracks sounds rather special; Coat Of Arms' unmistakable dubby snarl is threatening and weighty, and IOIO is a masterpiece of increasing pace, the synths actually sound as if they're whirling menacingly around the listener. These tracks are never less than expertly composed, and each clipped note is placed to a tee, creating a dark sonic field that has loads of great tiny moments to captivate the careful listener.

However on a great deal of the tracks, the tunes seem to unfortunately add up to less than the sum of their parts. There isn't enough variation from one track to another, and while some tracks are deliciously ambient and atmospheric like 2222, these prove to be too short and slight to really pack a punch. The problem often goes the other way, by the sixth track Caves you don't feel as if you're being offered anything new, and it goes on for too long.

The back end of the album does provide a few pleasures, Light#2 crackles into life with a punch that keeps on giving, and final track Lords is the best use of vocal samples found on the album, with a haunting, slow beat layered perfectly with the dubby synths. It's worth noting that although the majority of the tracks are nothing special by themselves, the slower more ambient stretches like Us do work well when the album is listened to as a whole.

Nosaj Thing isn't alone in favouring precision and atmosphere above all other elements in his music, but he has crafted a unique and accomplished sound across this LP that feels more mature and restrained than a debut album should. These great components make it a shame that there aren't actually a great deal of good songs here, but thankfully it generally works as whole, and that alone isn't enough to tip the balance against this fresh and exciting sound from a promising young producer.


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