2017-2019, the sophomore album under Nicolas Jaar’s Against All Logic moniker, marks a sharp left turn into harsher territory, drawing heavily on techno and industrial sounds as opposed to its lighter, disco-flavoured predecessor. The teaser EP leading up to this album, Illusions of Shameless Abundance, was the first precursor to a grittier sounding record. The title track is a pummelling percussive jam featuring spoken vocals from no-wave icon Lydia Lunch, an unlikely but logical combination given Jaar’s penchant for experimentalism and New York connection. The B-side, featuring FKA twigs (a known Jaar collaborator for his work on her album, MAGDALENE) is a slightly more accessible track with wildly pitched-down vocals from twigs, but it maintains the distorted and feedback-laden percussion. These tracks work as a taster for the album, but on their own feel somewhat meandering and are ultimately overshadowed by the quality of the full-length.
At its grooviest moments, 2017-2019 has echoes of A.A.L.’s earlier productions. The choppy Beyoncé sampling (from ‘Baby Boy’, featuring Sean Paul) on the opener, ‘Fantasy’, is a playful-yet-heavy introduction that merges melodic vocals with a mangled, distorted beat. In spite of its relative funkiness, the choice of sample here feels like a statement from Jaar, a glossy noughties pop production rather than the quaint, dusty soul and doo-wop records that were the building blocks of the first album. The message is clear: where 2012-2017 looks back, 2017-2019 looks forward.
While the album certainly breaks the mould more than A.A.L.’s debut, there are noticeably genre-specific moments throughout the track list. ‘With An Addict’ bears the hallmarks of classic footwork, with a high-tempo fluttering drum break set to spacey synths and a trippy, pitched-down male vocal. In contrast, ‘Penny’ is a shining example of speedy 4/4 techno while ‘Alarm’ is a gritty electro banger laden with clanging percussive samples. ‘If You Can’t Do It Good, Do It Harder', another track to feature Lydia Lunch, is a screaming downtempo slammer. The vocal sample that enters halfway through the track feels like something of a mission statement for this album: "because if you can't beat 'em, kill 'em / If you can't kill 'em, fuck 'em.” Where 2012-2017 found power in fun, sample-heavy disco, this album is all about extremes and excesses, using stratospheric amounts of compression and distortion to create a cranked, overblown feel.
This is likely the most aggressive-sounding music Jaar has ever released. Even with his extensive back-catalogue of fairly abrasive and boundary-pushing music, the production here sounds bruised, blistering and commanding, broken textures interspersed with groovier and more melodic moments in classic Jaar fashion. While some may find the album a challenging listen compared to 2012-2017, that challenge does not come without its rewards, as few moments in the track list fall short. Despite the stylistic change-up, the core elements of A.A.L.’s sound are there: warped samples, trembling bell-like synthesisers and Jaar’s trademark refusal to stick to a consistent tempo keep the album feeling authentically his own. In his music, Jaar continues to impress and provoke.