In 2017, experimental electronic producer Nicolas Jaar revived an old alias of his, Against All Logic. It had been a way for him to release tunes that didn’t quite fit into the rest of his discography, which is made up of a mix of genres, from downtempo to ambient, to psychedelic rock in his collab with guitarist Dave Harrington, Darkside. Against All Logic was an outlet for him to put out some of the tracks that were made for the dancefloor, that he mostly reserved for DJing. In fact, at first, it was a bit of a mystery who the artist behind Against All Logic even was. 2012-2017 was a compilation of songs from that time period, but it ended up being surprisingly cohesive. So it was interesting to hear that his new release under the name would have more of a whole album concept.
2012-2017 was made up of pretty straightforward house music, featuring a ton of old funk and soul vocal samples, and four on the floor beats. That album received excellent reviews, including an 8.8 score from Pitchfork and the number 2 spot on rateyourmusic.com’s all-time house music chart. But it seems as if Jaar resented the amount of attention it got, at least compared to his primary output under his own name. He apparently requested that his own image wouldn’t be associated with the project, and that it should be “any picture of a military man holding a cellphone,” as you can see by the stock photo on the cover art. That could explain part of why 2017-2019 is so wildly different. There’s hardly any house, or even other varieties of danceable grooves. But it also stands out from the rest of his catalog, it’s sort of a middle ground between 2012-2017 and the main Nicolas Jaar releases. The vocal samples are still there, but they’re not so much fun anymore. They’re often pretty eerie and strange sounding.
“Strange” is a good way to describe 2017-2019. It’s pretty difficult to even say what genre it is, it seems like there are bits of techno, industrial, or deconstructed club (whatever that even means). ‘If You Can’t Do It Good, Do It Hard’ in particular stands out, with its abrasive spoken word from Lydia Lunch, the 80s no-wave artist known for her collaboration with Sonic Youth ‘Death Valley ‘69’. The song features an industrial beat that has a militant feel, and Lunch’s voice almost sounds like a drill sergeant chanting on top of it. That type of beat continues into the next track, the too-short ‘Alarm’, which picks up the tempo and would fit in perfectly as the soundtrack of either a futuristic war or the nightclub in Blade Runner. Lunch also provided vocals for the non-album single ‘Illusions of Shameless Abundance’, which was released a week before the album and was even weirder. At the time I was pretty surprised that Jaar used that release to promote the album since it was the opposite of accessible. But between that track, its b-side, ‘Alucinao’ (feat. FKA twigs), and the music style of 2017-2019, it’s clear that he’s trying to keep his Against All Logic moniker as anti-commercial as possible in response to 2012-2017’s success.
2017-2019 starts off strong with my favorite song from the album, ‘Fantasy’. It features a simple vocal sample over a crunchy drum beat, with a fun little synth melody coming in halfway through. Then the breakdown towards the end becomes a cacophony of noise and almost random instruments. But somehow it all comes together to form a very pleasing melody, and that idea of beauty out of chaos is representative of the album’s overall sound. The stand-out track from the second half of the album, ‘Faith’, is much more subdued than most of the other songs. Jaar’s vocals are dreamy and washed out, and it sounds a lot like Thom Yorke in his solo electronic projects. It’s probably the song that sounds the most similar to 2012-2017, with its synth line and almost a house beat. But there aren’t any of the fun, clean drum sounds of house music, it’s still the sort of industrial sound of the rest of the album. Overall it has a dark and eerie feel, keeping with the theme of 2017-2019 as a whole.
This album might not attract the same attention that 2012-2017 did, but it’s an excellent release and a worthwhile addition to Nicolas Jaar’s already diverse catalog. 2017-2019 probably won’t sound like anything you’ve heard before, so if you’re into challenging your music boundaries, then I couldn’t recommend it enough.