- The only time I've seen Nicolas Jaar DJ, in Seattle in 2013, I was surprised at what I heard. He wasn't playing, say, avant-garde club music or the cerebral material found on his Essential Mix or RA podcast. Instead, he played midtempo disco edits and chunky house tunes that were hard to place. They were familiar but slightly off, like old records from a parallel universe. Subscribers to Jaar's Other People label knew the real story: this music was from Against All Logic, or A.A.L., an alias of Jaar's known only to diehard fans. Now that music has been compiled into an album, 2012-2017, released last month without warning. Unfortunately, it paints an unflattering picture of the project as house and disco pastiche with only brief flashes of inspiration.
2012-2017 is a grab bag of dead-simple bangers mixed in with typical Jaar weirdness. "Such A Bad Way" would be a perfunctory disco edit if it weren't for the pitched-down vocal samples and unnerving screaming (both taken from Kanye West's "I Am A God"), which puts a bad-trip spin on the song's frenzied fit of joy. The compilation opens with chanted vocals and odd bursts of distortion, marring an otherwise honeyed sample on "This Old House Is All I Have." It's what you imagine would come from a Jaar collaboration with Jamie xx, whose polished rave soul is a good reference point for A.A.L. "This Old House Is All I Have" also has one of the compilation's few recognizable samples, a David Axelrod song used in a number of old hip-hop and dance cuts.
Jaar's samples might not seem obvious, but 2012-2017 can feel generic. Most tracks are just looped soul samples fastened to heavy kicks. They might be uplifting if they didn't feel so utilitarian. Take "Some Kind Of Game." It sounds like something that might've been released for free on Bandcamp at the height of the vaporwave craze. "Know You" has a commanding beat, but not much else going for it. From a promising start, "City Fade" repeats itself into a rut. The ingredients are soulful and rapturous, but the songs are rarely transcendent.
The last few tracks show some promise. "Flash In The Pan" is impressive, with an undeniably funky beat and one of Jaar's signature staggering basslines. The closing ten-minute workout "Rave On U" makes up for its lack of originality with pure gusto. The obvious highlight from 2012-2017, "I Never Dream"—with its over-the-top vocal samples and dizzy repetition—is one of the few tracks that shows off Jaar's ear for details, particularly in the intricate way he chops up the drums. It links back to another dance floor smash of Jaar's, "Time For Us," the track that made him famous. Where that track's pitched-down singing and strange arrangement had hints of the oddball songwriter he'd become, most of the other A.A.L. material feels one-dimensional by comparison. There's little that you wouldn't hear done better on a record by Tiger & Woods or Soundstream, which brings me back to that DJ set. It was functional and funky, but it lacked a certain energy. It was a workmanlike exercise by someone capable of so much more.
01. This Old House Is All I Have
02. I Never Dream
03. Some Kind Of Game
05. Know You
06. Such A Bad Way
08. Now U Got Me Hooked
09. Flash In The Pan
10. You Are Going To Love Me And Scream
11. Rave On U