A few months ago, Nicolas Jaar published a video of Sergei Parajanov’s incredible 1969 film The Colour of Pomegranates accompanied by his own alternate soundtrack. While quite an ambitious feat, his songs fit the highly abstract way in which Parajanov’s film tells the story of the eighteenth century poet Sayat Nova eve though some of them were presumably not composed for the film. Jaar published the album a few days ago and generously gave it out for free on his official Facebook page, and included a note in which he explains the coming about of the album as a sort of cosmic event taking place between some of his scrapped projects, Parajanov’s film and a small pomegranate tree he found in his new apartment. While it is a nice story, the note comes off as a little silly. The songs however, not at all.
Jaar has always had a knack for spaced out noisy pieces which somehow resembled typical electronic pop structures, but were also in some way or another surprising. Space is Only Noise mixed very airy, very loosely knit textures with danceable beats trying to remain in both the club world and the abstract one. Pomegranates completely throws out the club part, consisting of drawn out noise and hum pieces, lo-fi piano compositions and some very sparse electronics. What he ingeniously adds to the mix is an Oriental flair very subtly introduced by way of small melodic hints like on the opener Garden of Eden, composed for a water bug to dance to, in which Eastern heat and bronze, metallic sheen are suddenly frozen and then pulverized into tiny particles which now fly around in swarms, or in small vocal samples as in Fall into Time where very harsh clockwork mechanics accompany some sort of sermon being held. But the Oriental connotations also come from a feeling Jaar creates of his compositions being very archaic. Much of his noises sound like found relics, everything is very dusty, and even the titles of the songs reference serious, existential or even religious themes. This is another great cross point with Parajanov’s film, the mystic, quasi-religious episodes. Titles like Shame, Tower of Sin, Three Windows, Beasts of this Earth could easily fill in as titles to several episodes of Sayat Nova’s story. Jaar mixes this archaic, dimension with a sometimes very urban landscape and doesn’t rely too much on the ethnic side of things, thankfully avoiding any sort of world music kitsch.
Another important point as to why a young electronic music producer’s album from 2015 fits in with an abstract Soviet film masterpiece is that they both seem to be doubly composed. Parajanov’s film could have been the simple story of the eighteenth century court poet’s life, and it would have been a piece of art i nits own right. But what the director chose to do instead is to offer an episodic interpretation of Sayat Nova’s progress, composing his piece over the initial work which was the normal story. Jaar works in a similar way, his songs where at some point typical loop based electronic music, but his compositional process did not stop there. He took these compositions as canvases over which he can paint the final versions. Far from being remixes of something, his songs are palimpsest sketches over which the final draft resides. Just as Sayat Nova’s actual story faintly hovers through the hyper-aesthetic images, Jaar’s basic, repetitive electronic music bubbles up now and then as a previous version of his final songs. The base seeps through occasionally, but mostly you get the metaphorical mix.
While hardly being an easy listen, Jaar’s Pomegranates also works as a background listen accompanying your subway ride, but it unfolds all its hypnotic power in a sunny, comfy chair, barefoot grass touching dedicated listening session. Or just watch the movie.