Turning inherently precise electronic lines into a cohesive burst of innovation is hard to achieve. Whimsy is a key ingredient, and while Jason Chung, a.k.a. Nosaj Thing, has plenty of this, he approaches his compositions with a studious and inclusive ear. Chung proved he had this album in him with the 2006 EP Views / Octopus, featuring most notably the rabid, sparkling “Heart Entire.” Since then, he’s remixed the likes of Daedalus and label mate Flying Lotus, and gained exposure as a regular at events like Low End Theory’s club night in his hometown of L.A. On Drift, the peerless influence of Aphex Twin commingles with a preference for hip-hop beats and a collection of synth sounds that range from bird-like to monstrous. While he categorizes his music as hip-hop, he’s merely laying down the beats here. In place of a lyrical message are blips, claps, pulses, and slaps that do, in a way, speak.
As his stage name suggests, Nosaj Thing can create translucent ghosts of songs, manipulating the volume and direction of light vocal lines on “Coat of Arms” to the effect that nothing is grounded or satisfied, even if the melody suggests resolution. There is as much textural variety among this song’s synth lines as there is on the entire album. Similarly, on “Fog,” the airy bass loop that hops all over the scale in the song’s intro gives way to an increasingly slick cast of synths and beats.
Like Richard D. James, Chung embraces beautiful, vulnerable melodic lines that like to snatch the spotlight, if only momentarily, from eerier mates. Sometimes he’ll rest longer on the beauty, but he is never lazy. “Us” could be a fine song with a few essential components, but Chung adds sharp string samples and tiny bits of aquatic atmosphere to the relaxed melody. What might have been an interlude is one of the album’s best songs. The industrial but warm beat on “Voices” could almost fit in with Burial’s world and is unique to this album, guiding a bit-crushed music-box melody and a deep, menacing bass that participate in a haunting melodic dialogue; the only thing uniting the two is the song’s key.
Not all of Chung’s tracks so neatly create organic worlds out of atmospheric variety: “Coat of Arms” and “IOIO” emphasize what’s locomotive in the compositions — and keep emphasizing it in new ways. “IOIO” starts with a ramp up to tempo, and before long the number of percussive and melodic lines has built from a handful to probably more than a dozen. Sometimes, as on this song and “1685/Bach,” the variety is overwhelming, but this may have more to do with the ordering of tracks than anything else; these three songs come in succession. More often than not, Chung’s tireless attention to his work is well-edited, and even the most chaotic and boisterous tracks are riveting.
3. Coat Of Arms
7. Light #1
8. Light #2