In contrast to its languorous title, Nosaj Thing’s debut LP Drift hit the glitch-hop world like a bolt from the blue in 2009. The album shifted wordlessly between moods and colour palettes, its intricate electronic arrangements lent force and clarity by the LA-based producer’s supreme skill and immaculate judgement. Its liquid beats were frequently reminiscent of fellow Los Angelite Flying Lotus, but Drift also made it clear that Nosaj Thing (real name: Jason Chung) was so much more than a tech-savvy piggy-backer. Chung’s beats took as much influence from the darker corners of UK dubstep as anywhere else, and the emotion that Drift’s best moments could elicit with little more than a click and a whirr was more than enough to mark him out in a genre that’s so often dominated by cold mechanics.
All this is a roundabout way of saying that Drift was one of 2009’s shiniest undiscovered gems, and the wait for its follow-up has been a long one for those who have spent the last three years exploring its depths. But now it has arrived in the shape of Home, an album that has its share of exquisite moments but can’t quite match up to its predecessor’s dynamism and breadth of expression.
When Nosaj Thing announced the postponement of his European tour in October last year due to ill health, he also presented a little glimpse into his relationship with his music. “Working on new music has been helping… it’s always been my therapy,” he wrote. Home certainly ripples with a quiet, therapeutic vibe; the soundtrack to Chung’s interior world. Album highlight ‘Try’, with its warm banks of synth lapping serenely against guest singer Toro Y Moi’s muffled vocals, feels like a damaged psyche slowly putting itself back together. Other tracks, like ‘Eclipse/Blue’ (featuring cut-glass vocals from Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino) and the chopped-up piano of ‘Prelude’, riff engagingly on the album’s themes of fragility and healing.
But a few too many tracks seem to pass like strangers on a busy street, heads down and hands in pockets, as if afraid to attract attention. It takes a few spins for the album’s opening title track to even register, while ‘Glue’ might be the first time Nosaj Thing has sounded derivative – Chung has always channelled a little of Burial’s urban gloom, but here the influence seems to take over entirely, as if he’s been temporarily possessed by some post-dubstep demon.
It’s a little ironic that, given the title of his first album, it’s the beats on Home that threaten to drift away into the night, unhappy and unnoticed. There’s still unearthly beauty to be discovered on this intensely personal and comparatively organic set, which for all its paleness still has plenty of potential to grow on the attentive listener. Perhaps it’s best enjoyed as a semi-conceptual glimpse into personal injury and gradual revival – the growly basslines on ‘Distance’ and ‘Snap’ inject a much-needed measure of sinuous groove and rhythmic strength to a set that elsewhere feels more comfortable in the foetal position than standing tall.
The clearest and most hopeful signal of the album’s curative power comes in its last track. ‘Light #3’, a visible link back to Drift (which featured ‘Light, Pt. 1’ and ‘Light, Pt. 2’), surges with emotion and a swelling power. The track opens with distorted piano chords and a buzzy drum ‘n’ bass beat, adding new elements and shifting its tempo with a momentum and vigour that feels unique to Nosaj Thing at his very strongest. What happened to Jason Chung’s mind and body in the last three years to prompt such a hesitant album is unclear, but despite its flaws, Home feels like the perfect encapsulation of weakness turning into strength. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another three years to find out if Nosaj Thing’s musical therapy has been a complete success.