Band of the Day

2015.05.11

Nosaj Thing

Stripped-down beats with haunted synth tones evoking themes of isolation and escapism
Silent and solemn, Smeagol to Gollum, evil done got him. Doctors say we believe it's a problem. Possessed by a demon, they won't leave it inside him.
lyrics from Cold Stares ft. Chance The Rapper

It’s been six years since Nosaj Thing, the producer born Jason Chung, appeared among the vanguard of Low End Theory-affiliated producers from Los Angeles. His debut LP Drift, a sleek and futuristic album shot through with a sense of melancholy, was hailed as a landmark record for the “beat scene”, both embodying its aesthetic and transcending it with its focus on mood, texture on tone as much as on beats. None could match Drift’s moody iridescence, faded sadness and funky swing, its varied pool of influences ranging from soul music to Boards of Canada. Pitchfork called it “gorgeously haunted”, and Resident Advisor said it “exists in its own dimension and feeds off its own exhaust: full of alien choirs, conquered computers, and refracting stained-glass light.” If Drift was an impressive full-length debut, then Home, its 2013 follow-up and Nosaj Thing’s first record for Innovative Leisure, consolidated that potential. Fated is the sound of an artist whose sound has had time to mature. Now the comparisons to the LA beat scene seem flimsy as, now no longer beholden to its aesthetics, Nosaj Thing has emerged as a singular artist. In that sense, Fated seems like the record Nosaj was always meant to make. “The album name came from all these coincidences that just kept on happening to me,” he says. “Specific interactions with specific people in unexpected places. A perpetual feeling of déjà vu.” This renewed focus was born from a new approach to the processes of songwriting and production. “The last record took out so much of me,” says Nosaj, “I just wanted to go back to simplifying and overthinking so much. It was a battle.” By stripping away anything he didn’t deem strictly necessary, Chung harnessed a sound notable for its directness and emotional potency. Guest appearances are rare, save for vocals from Chicago rap phenomenon Chance The Rapper on ‘Cold Stares’, his unusually grave cadence deepening the paranoia of the already tense track, and Whoarei, co-producer of ‘u’ on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, on ‘Don’t Mind Me’. The isolated tone of much of Fated can be explained, in part at least, by Nosaj’s headspace at the time. “I just tried to escape really, and escape even what’s going on in the music world,” says Chung. “It just felt so suffocating in a way. I just wanted to do my own thing.” That isolated quality can be heard throughout Fated, from the haunted melody and glassy timbre at the centre of ‘Don’t Mind Me’, complemented by Whoarei’s soft, breathy vocals, or the billowing synth tones of ‘Watch’. Disembodied sampled vocals add to the ghostly effect of ‘Uv3’, while ‘Cold Stares’ and ‘Erase’ nod to the producer’s origins in instrumental hip-hop. Fittingly for an artist who has remixed Charlotte Gainsbourg and The xx, collaborated with Toro Y Moi and Kendrick Lamar, and toured with James Blake, Nosaj Thing is increasingly difficult to pigeonhole. The narrow prescriptions of the beat scene no longer seem fitting. It’s not immediately apparent quite what Fated is, touching as it does on IDM, hip-hop, ambient and pop, but what is clear is how far Nosaj Thing has come.