Nicolas Jaar made ‘Cezinas’ for times like this

Thursday, April 2, 2020 - 12:39pm

NOSELL

Wikimedia Commons

Just a few hours before the release of his highly anticipated album Cezinas, Nicolas Jaar took to his blog to provide listeners with some background info. He wrote: 

“The music comes from a desire to feel everything -- a few years ago, I stopped drinking alcohol, smoking, consuming caffeine, eating animals, etc., and, for a period of time, I also quarantined myself alone somewhere on the other side of the world to be able to work on music for months on end. I didn’t want to keep feeding the system. Its [the system’s] hunger, its past. I didn’t want to work from ambition. Where I would work to impress first, and love second. I wanted presence first. Love first. I thought that if I had this privilege and this luck, to be able to talk to people through sound, then I better work on myself & get rid of negative shards within me. I didn’t want to unwittingly throw [the shards] back into the world. Of course, this didn’t happen...the shards kept piling up and I had to accept the fact that the darkness that I was trying to get away from would always rear its head...Hopefully Cenizas only shows darkness so as to show a path out of it. I want this music to heal and help in thinking through difficult questions about one’s self, and one’s relationship to the state of things. We are living in a time of complete transformation, a metamorphosis— and the transformations are happening within as well. There is potential for great healing and great destruction.

...

With love, Nico.”

Well, now certainly does seem like the perfect time for him to release this album, doesn’t it? In short, for Jaar (and hopefully for his listeners), Cezinas is a way of processing the darkness and realizing there is always a way through, no matter how dark it seems. The music, however opaque or murky, is a way of understanding why we have darkness and how it can transform us. 

It’s clear Cezinas is unlike anything Jaar has ever released. It’s unlike this year’s danceable but ominous 2017-2019, it’s unlike 2018’s 2012-2017, it’s unlike 2016’s political, vocal-focused Sirens, it’s unlike any of the multitudinous EPs and it’s certainly unlike his psychedelic, guitar-driven side project Darkside, yet somehow, it’s distinctly Jaar. Jaar is in total control on Cezinas, just like he is on his other projects. It’s undeniable. As always, he precisely executes his vision exactly as he envisions it, never compromising for the sake of accessibility. Like he said in his blog post, the album is dark, but it’s only dark as a means to show that the light is always present, regardless of how far off it seems. 

Opening track “Vanish” sets the tone of Cezinas (Spanish for “ashes”) in concrete. It begins with a droning, haunting instrumental that sounds like the sonic representation of darkness, but it eventually gives way to an airy, desperate chorus of Jaar’s voice that pleads,  “Say you’re coming back / Say you’re coming back / Say you’re coming back / Say you’re coming back / Say you’re coming back.” It ends just as the final repetition rings out and then transitions to “Menysid,” an almost industrial instrumental filled with stinging whirrs and buzzes while a barely-there synth line trudges along in the background, like an ever-present, dim light. Title track “Cenizas” continues to build on the droning atmosphere, but Jaar establishes a sense of fear by questioning the fate of humanity as the world shrinks and crumbles, singing, “In the ashes / We are going to assemble / Knowing nothing / Is better.” 

The fear and uncertainty continues to manifest and eventually culminates with “Mud,” Cezinass crushing centerpiece. The darkness has reached its high point, made clear as Jaar repeatedly warns that “There’s something in the mud.” Once the vocals totally fade, the track becomes brighter and more vibrant, as if to say whatever it is in the mud is completely obscured, but still there regardless. All that needs to be done is to get it out. 

As Cezinas goes on, it slowly begins to fill with light, though the darkness still prevails. “Sunder” and “Hello, Chain” are the one-two punch that was needed to drive the album closer to its conclusion. “Sunder” features a hypnotizing repetition of ascending keys as Jaar begins to figure that his path through the darkness depends on no one other than himself. The same can be said of “Hello, Chain,” with its heavenly layered chants, patiently oscillating synthesizer and lyrics that suggest the only way to the light is patience.

The final three tracks are like the final push out of the darkness. On “Garden,” the light, though still far away, makes its presence abundantly clear. “Xerox” is the last violent drag out of the darkness toward the gateway to the light, and “Faith Made of Silk” is the act of moving through the gateway and leaving the darkness behind. “Faith Made of Silk” comes as a sudden burst at the end of the album. It’s not a celebratory song, though. Instead, it’s a cautionary one. Jaar’s lyrics make it obvious that the act of leaving the darkness is not about making sure that it never returns. He sings, “Look around not ahead / (You have nowhere to look) / A peak is just the way towards / A descent,” reminding listeners not to fall prey to any darkness that may lurk ahead because after every peak of light lies a descent filled with uncertainty. That is to say, it’s useless to look ahead. It’s more beneficial to recognize everything they’ve overcome and remember the people and events that eventually got them to the light, just in case they find themselves or anyone else trapped in the darkness somewhere down the road.

Though not as danceable or accessible as Jaar’s previous releases, Cezinas is without a doubt his most powerful. Jaar manages to make darkness palpable in every song, yet somehow he is skilled enough to make sure the light is always present, no matter how obscured it may be. The album itself is a representation of the transformation we undergo as we deal with darkness in our lives. Each individual song is either a representation of the healing or the destruction that occurs during a hellish journey to the light. It goes without saying, Cezinas is the perfect album for the world today as humanity navigates through the seemingly ever-present darkness toward the light, wherever it may be.