27-year-old Los Angeles producer and DJ Jason Chung aka Nosaj Thing is a man who operates at the distinctly more oblique and avant-garde of hip-hop and electronic production. There is a temporal beauty to Chung’s sonic explorations of the outer reaches of electronic music encompassing ambient sound collages, traditional hip-hop break beats and the darker, deeper core of dubstep. The music Chung makes as Nosaj Thing can very loosely be described as dance music but it is dance music coloured with a real emotional resonance more suited to bedroom introspection and early morning comedown than euphoric dance floor excess.
When describing his second album Home in the accompanying press release Chung says: “This record is very personal to me. I was writing it as everything was changing in my life.” There is certainly a strong feeling of delicate melancholy that runs across each of the 11 tracks collected here. The album very much continues on from Chung’s debut, 2009’s The Drift, which saw him compared to fellow LA experimentalist Flying Lotus and captured the eye of numerous artists enthralled by his talents, primarily The xx, Beck and Kendrick Lamar. Home is perhaps even more of a minimalist affair with every track stripped back to a sort of wafer thin, airy, silken layer where sounds waft in and out with spectral beauty.
The opening title track offers a fair indication of the album’s immersive qualities. A repetitive, warped vocal effect wraps itself around a distended and taut beat while all sorts of glitches, beeps and effects help to provide a hypnotic reverie. It’s a sound you can’t quite place but to which you’re compelled to listen.
While there is a sonic framework of subtle delicacy in keeping with his debut album, there is a noticeable difference – with the addition of vocalists for the first time. The two tracks that feature a voice and a melody are among the album’s best and most striking. Eclipse/Blue featuring Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead is an utterly spellbinding piece of real beauty. The contrast between hyper pitched bleeps, a menacingly relentless beat and the gorgeous smokey vocals of Makino, dripping with heartfelt emotion, is compelling. Toro Y Moi is also employed on the equally effective Try, his hazy vocals threatening to float off into the ether. These voices add a new dimension to Chung’s already emotive sounds.
Despite the success of these vocal tracks, the album is anchored in Chung’s oblique electronic sounds. Many of the tracks are built on the slightest of foundations. Tendrils of sounds grow from off-kilter beats, which have a low humming buzz like the pulse of a gently beating heart, as on the spiraling Safe. Elsewhere, tracks are like miniature sonic symphonies, for example the graceful synthesized strings of Tell. Chung’s dexterity and skill as a producer is remarkable.
There are some weaker moments, where the tracks are perhaps too slight and delicate and fail to leave any lasting impression. Snap is a lurching piece of throwaway electronica and Glue is a rather unsettling piece of jerky pops and frenetic synths that lacks the depth of some of the other pieces. But as a complete work, Home is blessed with an incredible lucidity that marks it out as an excellent follow-up.
There are a growing number of electronic producers emerging who have a rich desire to create something unique and special, which pays no heed to trends or styles. Much like Holy Other, a UK producer who shares some similarities with Nosaj Thing, they are taking established sounds like hip-hop and electronica and warping them into interesting and intensely soulful in the truest sense of the word directions. Home is a significant statement from a hugely impressive producer at the peak of his powers.