Quiet genius is a scarce commodity, but it rarely makes for good copy. In this nothing-matters era, indie music blogs and magazines have frequently perished in favor of podcasts, vlogs, lifestyle websites, streaming algorithms, and Saharan social media thirst.
The consequences are subtle but vexing. Arts criticism has largely devolved into a cynical quagmire of overhyped prospecting, celebrity gossip, and the occasional fire emoji. As for the artists themselves, shameless self-promotion and performative narcissism consistently trump shadowy brilliance.
So if you weren't aware that Nosaj Thing, one of the best producers of the past decade, earlier this month released his fourth album, your oversight is understandable. It's also regrettable — Parallels might be his finest effort since his classic debut, 2009's Drift.
"I tend to prefer listening to artists where I don't know much about them," Nosaj Thing says. "There's so much music moving so fast that if you aren't promoting yourself constantly, you don't get heard. I don't know..."
He takes a lengthy pause.
"Now you got me thinking."
The thoughtfulness, focused rigor, and philosophical introspection that characterize the Cerritos native and Echo Park resident is antithetical to modern discourse. He's interested in nuanced reinvention, not loud revolutions, having stealthily expanded the perimeters of his mercury noir beats to encompass house, jungle, R&B, ambient, and techno.
An early avatar of the Low End Theory sound, the producer born Jason Chung has distanced himself from that era without denying his origins. His influence is unmistakable among thousands of SoundCloud producers. He has collaborated with Chance the Rapper, Kid Cudi, and Kendrick Lamar. The last even recruited him to collaborate on Damn. None of his beats wound up being used, but Chung's zodiac float doubtlessly seeped into the album's final sound.
"For a variety of reasons and stereotypes, some people see electronic music as an unexpressive medium," Chung says. "But to me, it's all about sculpting and discovering new ways to get the sounds in my head out."
Chung's music is a means of catharsis, and with Parallels he examines classic binaries of nostalgia and innovation, emotion and technology, beauty and dissonance, love and regret, paranoia and acceptance.
These are the themes that embody the wordless choruses, meditative satori, and multidimensional slipstream of the record. You can also detect the influence on Parallels of the artists on Chung's Timetable Records imprint, which has evolved into one of dance music's most dependable, with little accompanying fanfare.
Chung's ability to thrive without that fanfare is testament to the quality and integrity of the music, combined with his spellbinding live show — one that's often psychedelic without lapsing into EDM cliché.
"As I get older, I want to listen to music that allows me not to overthink but also forces me to think about it," Chung laughs.
Released on Innovative Leisure, Parallels eschews anything remotely resembling a trend, crafting moody and minor-key suites, occasionally buoyed by vocalists but mostly somber, meticulous, and pristine.
It's music to guard against the onslaught of overinformation, a poetic retreat into memory, an exploration of the fringes, and a step back into sanity. It is another Nosaj Thing record, which is always a very good thing.
"I would never want to make the same type of record — what's most exciting to me about making music is the ability to experiment and explore new sounds," Chung says. "I want to do this until I'm 80 years old. I want to be like Ryuichi Sakamoto or Brian Eno. I want to do this until I die."
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