The last time we saw a full length from LA native Jason Chung, aka Nosaj Thing, was May 2009, when he released the excellent Drift and established himself as at least the equal of an impressive set of contemporaries in the LA electronic scene. That’s nearly four years without a sophomore release, an eternity in a scene that feels constantly shape-shifting and restless. Fellow LA artist Flying Lotus (whom Chung has remixed in the past) has released an EP and two albums of increasing brilliance while Nosaj Thing’s been away, but the extended break suggests a meticulous recording period and has at least had the benefit of upping the anticipation for this follow-up.
Home is another beast entirely. If Drift had one eye on the dancefloor (particularly with the pulsating “Coat Of Arms”), Chung’s new album is definitely one for the headphones. It is the sound of an artist reining himself in, a low-key outing that resembles Zomby’s Things Fall Apart in its approach. The difference is that Zomby’s hyperactive debut album warranted a toned-down sequel. Nosaj Thing has opened here with a title track that sounds at first like a low-key intro to something bigger, but in fact turns out to be a blueprint for the whole record.
At times, this works a treat. “Eclipse/Blue” has a melody that slowly bubbles to the surface, with synths washing over in gentle waves to complement the gorgeous guest vocal from Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino. As she sings, “I don’t know how to please you” in her soft tones, Chung constructs a rich sound utilizing a deep but unobtrusive bass, and the result is haunting and seriously impressive. Toro Y Moi later contributes vocals to “Try,” which feels like a response to the earlier song with its refrain of “I know I did you right, I know I did you wrong,” but the track doesn’t quite replicate the magic of “Eclipse/Blue.”
The rest of Home is a one-man show, and one of its most intriguing aspects is trying to ascertain whether the melancholy vibe was a purely sonic choice or a reflection of Chung’s mindset during the recording. The album itself certainly doesn’t offer up many clues, taking a route so successfully employed by Holy Other last year. With the likes of “Safe,” Nosaj Thing replicates the effect of hints of sunlight peeking through dense foliage, as elements of the track appear and occasionally connect on the surface like oil spots on water. It is a sound that’s malleable but often risks becoming adrift in itself.
The highlights of the album only serve to make the overall experience a little frustrating. On the one hand, “Snap,” with its stuttering drum rhythms and swarming bass, feels like a wonderfully cohesive melding of all of Nosaj Thing’s strong points. The track manages to be both dense and weightless at the same time, a gleaming success. On the other hand, too many songs here become inconsequential. The production is quality, but there is a lack of direction on tracks like “Tell” that pervades the album. It makes one wonder whether the elongated gestation may have had something of a detrimental effect on the focus.
Home boasts a lush and warm sonic range throughout, and Nosaj Thing’s skills as a producer are never in doubt, but there is just enough great stuff on here to make you crave a more complete effort. After four years, there’s a wonderful EP’s worth of material here, surrounded by some good ideas that could have done with further exploration. Closer “Light 3” is the album in a nutshell: a melody that quietly swells up, a layered scatter of drums, and then after a really promising build up, it’s all over. Almost there, but not quite.
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