Review: Nosaj Thing – Home LP

It’s been about three and a half years since Jason Chung, better known as Nosaj Thing, unleashed his debut album “Drift” onto the world. Hailing from leftfield beat capital of the USA, Los Angeles, Chung initially made a name for himself through his self-released “Views / Octopus EP”, which saw him toying with glitch sounds, bit crushers, abrasive melodies, and live filtering. After one listen his linage as a boy brought up on golden age hip-hop is apparent. “Views / Octopus EP” was bursting from its seams with color and noise and though it was beautiful at the same time it was wearing and unsustainable. His debut gave us fan favorites such as “IOIO”, “1685/Bach”, and “Voices” and as an album one phrase in particular came to mind; chaotic refinement. On his LP he presented a more polished version of his vision which worked, becoming a 2009 favorite among critics and fans. In the time since he has built a visually stunning live show and worked in the studio with the likes of Kendrick Lamar. Now, after three and a half years and a couple of false alarms, he has released his sophomore album, “Home”. Time has steadied his focus and brought about maturity, artistically; again, the word refinement comes to mind.

Around the time of the release of “Drift”, Chung was already openly discussing his plans for the follow-up record. Though he came from a beat-centric world he was no stranger to (and a fan of) vocals. His interest in working with vocalists manifested itself in two of the album’s more memorable cuts – “Eclipse/Blue” featuring Kazu Makino, and “Try” featuring Toro y Moi. Kazu Makino’s (of Blonde Redhead, a band that Chung has cited as one of his favorites) contribution is the type of “skeleton” more people should use when pairing vocals with their instrumentals, in the sense that it compliments the beat. Instead of the typical process of 1+1=2 (although more often than not it becomes less than the sum of its parts) when it comes to vocals, Makino’s ethereal voice adds depth. It also helps that the instrumental feels as though it were built with her voice in mind. “Try” shares many similarities with the former, though the vocal feels slightly less necessary. Behind a skippy beat and woozy synth lines, Chaz Bundick’s voice seems to slide through the center of the song. Even the slight use of autotune seems appropriate. The instrumental itself shows just how much Chung has focused his sound; there are no glaring synths or glitches, it’s just a smooth four-minute ride with Bundick as the co-pilot.

Moving away from the album’s vocal tracks you are given relatively short beats (rarely exceeding four-minutes), which act as a window into the mindset of an artist who we believe has come into his own. As a whole there is an uptick in the use of melodies as opposed to sound design. Gone is the majority of those head-spinning basslines that laced his first releases, instead they are replaced with increasingly complex layering. Though he may lose a few fans – the ones who desired a harder sound from him, the move is in line with the theme of the album. The opener and title track, “Home”, does a lot to foreshadow what’s to come in the subsequent thirty-four minutes. Panning synthesizers that mimic the sound of a distorted vocal are place on top sparse kick drums and organic strings. It wouldn’t be a complete stretch to compare it to beat boxing, albeit an electronic variety. Another standout is “Tell”, which uses some of the simple filter techniques he has become known for in tandem with an almost two-step groove. The melody and patches used on this track are simple and sonically addictive; this is one of the many tracks we left on repeat. “Snap” has one of the most upfront basslines on the album and brings back memories of older tracks, though he pulls the reins in on the synthesizers, showing a vast amount of control, and lets the beat breathe. On a whole Chung’s drum game has always been top notch, but now it feels cleaner and has a rhythm generally associated with other, more dance-orientated genres.

Stream: Nosaj Thing – Try feat. Toro y Moi (Innovative Leisure Records)

The album’s final two tracks, “Phase III” and “Light #3”, could be considered roots stemming from his past. Their names reference tracks from his self-released EP and “Drift”, respectively. It would seem that by phase he means a phase in his musical growth (and possibly personal growth) because this track alludes to its counterpart very little and instead focuses more on headspace (though “Phase II” was one of the more subdued tracks on the EP). The two previous Light tracks leaned on sharp melodies and to an extent so does “Light #3”, especially in its piano intro which uses a repeater in a similar fashion to “Light #1”. Chung seems to be letting the listener know he is aware of his previous work, sound, and the direction he is going now; it’s encouraging to see an artist who is so keenly self aware.

“Home” sounds like a personal album, which may seem obvious given the title. Over the course of the album Chung demonstrates how far he’s come and how comfortable he’s become in the last three and a half years. He’s lived, toured, worked with some of his idols and contemporaries, and appears to have come into his own as an artist. If you approach this album expecting a host of new sounds and experiments you may be disappointed because that is not what it’s about or the image he is trying to leave the listener with. Though his music was never exclusively geared toward dance floors, many of his tracks worked on them; whereas this album feels like he has crafted something geared more for home listening. Like many albums it is a grower, and for some it many feel underwhelming with it’s toned down voice. One of the problems that face many producers from this area of electronic music is putting together an album that has a cohesive theme and voice; we would argue that he has done that. Over the course of 11 tracks nothing feels completely out of place and no one track stands out as the hit – instead it works as one cohesive piece. It appears that he has moved away from (or maybe grown out of) simply making beats to being a more leftfield producer with a vision, and hopefully his audience has and will continue to grow with him.

Stream: Nosaj Thing – Eclipse/Blue feat. Kazu Makino (Innovative Leisure Records)

Nosaj Thing’s Home is available now on Innovative Leisure Records.

Jonathon Alcindor

Writer & Techy. My word is bond, whatup doe? Twitter,