Thirty seconds into the opening track “Killing Time” you might think either Spotify or your headphone jack is broken—the sound of grain rings softly in the distance. With the volume cranked, another fifteen seconds creep by and footsteps shuffling in the background start to emerge. At one minute there’s a sudden crash of breaking glass and a piano melody, almost reminiscent of wind chimes, is layered into the background. Nicolas Jaar’s latest LP Sirens is a slow-building and patient, dynamic masterpiece.
Seamlessly blending discordant sounds into melodies, Jaar crafts a beautifully mysterious and politically charged album. Packed with references to Nicolas’ personal life and significant events in Chilean history (Jaar was born in New York, but spent ages 2-9 in Chile), the album is largely a commentary on the Presidential Election this year. Overtly portrayed by the lyrics in “Killing Time”, he sings “We’re just waiting for the old folks to die/We’re just waiting for the old thoughts to die”.
Similar to Jaar’s earlier up-tempo dance tracks (think “Swim” from Nymphs, or “Marks” from Marks / Angles), the beginning of “The Governor” briefly takes the listener out of the labyrinthine atmosphere with faster tempos and a dark, driving bass line, building into a cacophony of crashing symbols and complex drum beats. Out of this climax, the piano melody introduced in the first song resurfaces and patiently decelerates the album. Smoothly shifting into the next track, Leaves is soft and ambient, transporting the listener back in time to a distant interview between a young Nicolas Jaar talking with his father Alfredo—an artist, architect, and filmmaker who also did the scratch-off cover artwork for Sirens. Their exchange is lighthearted and almost nonsensical, but sets the stage to continue the heavy political dialogue Jaar tackles throughout the album.
Entirely sung in Spanish, “No”, is potentially the most crucial song to understanding the overarching theme of Sirens. In an interview with Pitchfork he comments, “What interested me a lot was that, in 1988, there was a referendum that asked the Chilean people: ‘Do you want Pinochet to stay for eight more years?’ That simple, yes or no. So the resistance—which was artists, leftists, activists—created a campaign for the ‘no.’ They effectively turned a negative message into a positive message, which seems like the most elemental change that you can do.” This also helps to contextualize the words on the cover of the album: “Ya dijimos no pero el si esta en todo.” which translates to “We already said no but the yes is in everything”.
Mystery surrounds Nicolas, including his website which is cryptic and hard to navigate. Opening http://other-people.network brings you to a screen prompting to enter a random number between 0-333. Static and noises similar to what one might expect an electrical shortage to sound like, automatically loop in the background. (Hint: to access Sirens, type in 333. The album begins playing without the option to pause or skip tracks but has a full list of the lyrics and also includes a bonus track “Wildflowers”)
Subdued and beachy, Jaar flawlessly ties together the album with the last song “History Lesson”. Contradicting a timeless, doo-wop melody with darker lyrics “Chapter one: We f*cked up/Chapter two: We did it again, and again…/Chapter three: We didn’t say sorry/Chapter four: We didn’t acknowledge/Chapter five: We lied/Chapter six: We’re done.” Sirens urges us to listen and dissect. A musical invitation to ask ourselves a question: will history be repeated?
WORDS: INTERN WRITER ALEANNA COLLINS