Unfriends like these

Over breakfast, reading Giles Coren and Matthew Parris in The Times, I was forced to conclude that schooling kills creativity, and economists’ predictions are not so much dismal science as abysmal science. I suppose I am doubly screwed, then.

Nicolas Jaar, a twentysomething graduate of Brown University, studied the American equivalent of Coren’s English degree—Comparative Literature—and is, I note, making waves once more, this time for his collaboration with Dave Harrington, Darkside, who will release an LP, Psychic, this October. Jaar’s debut album under his own name, Space Is Only Noise, occupied what I shall term ‘between places’. A stifled giggle here, a forlorn parp of trumpet there; in and out of tasteful piano chords, shaken about with lugubrious beats. It was a sensual piece of work, with arch French philosophy being lapped at by sampled waves and tricksy piano rolls.

Psychic opens with “Golden Arrow”, which offers a preview into an altogether more dangerous universe. Out of primordial antimatter, akin to the start of Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden, emerges Jaar’s digitally-tortured bleatings, resembling Justin Vernon on parts of the Bon Iver album. A simple on-off beat, crisp as you like, is threatened by the low-level hum of an organ pretending to be a killer refrigerator. Harrington’s guitar-playing alternates between pregnant ripples redolent of songs on Foals’ Total Life Forever, and taut, fraught, reverberating chords that sound imported from The Flaming Lips’ “Powerless”. At its most muscular, the composition resembles portions of My Morning Jacket’s “Cobra”—and this is not faint praise. Then, the beat starts to stutter and skip and undergo a crushing of bits and bytes. The song crumbles around it, disintegrating into chilling echoes of half-remembered nightmares.

Jaar runs a subscription-only label called Other People, which is part of the Internet of zines and limited-run vinyl, pop-up restaurants and cafés with no names and concrete tables, to which I can only dream of belonging. Collectively, they are the anti-Facebook. ‘Unfriend’ has slumped into the OED of late, but Beck coins his own vernacular with “Defriended”, released earlier in the summer. A campfire anthem for the Zuckerberg haters, its pastoral aesthetic serves to undermine the social networkers. “Live the day before you turn it / On and off”, Beck sighs, wistfully, atop delicately strummed acoustic guitar. Like the conjunction of early Animal Collective and Beck’s own Sea Change album, the song is nostalgic and of childlike beauty.

It could be mere coincidence, but Arcade Fire‘s “Reflektor”, which leaked yesterday and which will be released properly tomorrow, also channels a tone that’s critical of social networks. “We’re still connected / But are we even friends?” asks Win Butler, adopting his requisite sneering tone. Musically, the troupe has switched things up a little, taking a few cues from their new producer, James Murphy: the song is nearly eight minutes in length; there are bongos and congas pattering beneath the driest drum-sound this side of an actual DFA release; there are numerous hallmarks of disco standards, from burbling synths to blasts of brass. And David Bowie on guest vocals.

A week ago I caught, by chance, Floating Points (né Sam Shephard, PhD candidate in epigenetics) DJ-ing at the deceptive Shacklewell Arms in Dalston. Not perturbed by one malfunctioning deck, Shephard ploughed on with the good-times, mining his peerless collection of jazz, soul, funk and samba. His youth, and a cheeky grin that sometimes breaks out from an otherwise studious, furrowed brow, belies an almanac-like knowledge. Has he not been through enough education to have had his creativity extinguished?

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