Jason Chung evokes self-indulgent solitude and delectable dejection on his third studio album
Nosaj Thing, born Jason Chung, first came to prominence as part of a loose group of producers based around the Low End Theory club night, incubator for the Los Angeles beat scene. His first two albums drew heavily from these surroundings, but also transcended them with their emphasis on mood and texture.
His new release, ‘Fated’, touches on everything from hip hop and R&B to glitchy IDM and experimental electronica. The record’s main achievement is drawing all these influences into a cohesive statement, resulting in a work of impressive focus and concision. The 15 tracks on ‘Fated’ average just over two minutes each. The album takes the form of little sketches, each packing plenty of rhythmic and textural ideas but ultimately contributing to the whole rather than announcing themselves as singular entities.
Chung captures a particular mood that few others can – a lonely, late-night melancholy laced with emptiness and nostalgia. For the most part, ‘Fated’ gently shifts his emphasis towards soundscapes rather than beats. That’s not to say the latter is absent, just less of a draw perhaps than on previous releases. The percussion is crisp and delicate throughout, grounded by ominous and occasionally aggressive bass pulses that provide a real heft to these compositions. At times, it comes across as a sort of sanitised machine aesthetic; noises like whirring spacecraft parts working in perfect harmony.
As on his last record, ‘Home’, Chung employs a handful of vocal collaborators. Chicago MC Chance The Rapper previously tapped up Nosaj Thing for a hidden track on his 2013 mixtape, ‘Acid Rap’. On ‘Fated’, Chance returns the favour, lending his blank intonations to the 3am glacial soul of ‘Cold Stares’. Whoarei, fresh from a production credit on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, pitches in on the fluttery R&B ballad ‘Don’t Mind Me’. To their credit, both guests rein in their particular eccentricities, mapping themselves to the contours of Chung’s emotional landscape while still providing a welcome injection of character.
Aside from the guest artists, one of the album’s most striking features is its frequent use of heavily processed vocal samples. Their presence casts an eerie spell over the record, whether flitting about like ghosts in the machine in ‘Watch’ or standing firm like a Greek chorus in ‘Uv3’. They call to mind the vocal manipulations of certain other contemporary musicians – Holly Herndon’s abstract academic approach, the vaporwave excursions of Oneohtrix Point Never – as well as indirectly harking back to the futurism of Nosaj Thing’s debut full-length, ‘Drift’.
Chung has again come up trumps, with a well-crafted album that excels in creating a specific mood and then keeps you there for the duration. ‘Fated’ invites you inside and then locks the doors, stripping away anything superfluous and magnifying the essentials of the Nosaj Thing sound.