Album Review: Nicolas Jaar ‘Pomegranates OST’

Nicolas Jaar Pomegranates OST
(Other People – February 22, 2015)
(Original Sound Track)

Nicolas Jaar’s newest release is an updated score to Sergei Parajanov’s 1969 Armenian Soviet-era avant-garde film, The Colour of Pomegranates. Jaar’s latest falls in line with his self-described “blue-wave” style and incorporates some musique concrète elements of what sounds like rough samples of traditional Armenian music. Stand out tracks such as “Screams at the Edge of Dawn” and “The Fool and His Harem” are much more accessible than one might presume from a re-imagining of a 40 year old soundtrack. Jaar’s release, titled simply Pomegranates, bears his distinct mark and will sound familiar to any listener who has kept up with his output since Space is Only Noise. Really though, the biggest difference between Pomegranates and Space is Only Noise is that here, Jaar is working within someone else’s narrative structure. Pomegranates manages the subtle balancing act of being an engrossing listen on its own while excellently servicing the flow of images in the film.

Color of Pomegranates film

The Colour of Pomegranates is an amazing avant-garde film that deserves its place in history. A whole other review could easily be dedicated to how Jaar’s updated score fits with the film, and how it compares to the original score of The Colour of Pomegranates. Juno Reactor and Madonna have used or referenced sections of Colour and the films meticulous sets and use of GIF-like static tableaus have influenced countless music videos and films.

The most difficult track on this album is the opener, the misleadingly titled Garden of Eden. It begins with chimes, harsh string drones, and off-key warbles. Elements of later tracks appear to be buried in Garden of Eden’s layer of drone. This tense track definitely puts the listener on edge, which is at odds with the mood of the rest of the album in general. “Construction,” track two, is a better example of what is to come. It begins with percussive found-sounds that are progressively consumed by a growing string drone before a piano chimes in to bring form to the arrangement. Although I think the opening two tracks are the weakest on the album, they manage to set up expectations that are subverted throughout the rest of the album.

Drones definitely lay the foundation for many of Pomegranates’ 20 tracks, but harmonic elements such as chanting, snippets of voices, plinking bells, piano, and horn samples bring a necessary lightness that keeps the listener engaged. “Kapital,” near the end of the album, could almost fit into a club DJ set. Divorced from the stunning images of Parajanov’s film, Jaar’s Pomegranates does a good job of carrying the emotional beats that form the core of the film’s narrative of the life of Armenian ashug Sayat-Naya. Early on, the album displays the chaotic uncertainties of youth, then begins to incorporate more traditional musical elements as the poet Sayat-Naya grows into manhood, finds love, and joins a monastery. With each scene the sound pallet grows in complexity and beauty as Sayat-Naya ages and gains wisdom. In that regard, the track progression shows maturity in compositional structure as a greater complexity of sounds are used to successfully convey the growth and aging of Sayat-Naya. As the album plays, Sayat-Naya grows through his life until he meets death, and the album ends. While there are stand out tracks,this album is best enjoyed as a complete listening experience. For fans of modern composition, engaging electronic ambient, or Jaar’s previous work, there is much to love here. This is headphone music at its best.

Picks: Screams at the Edge of Dawn, The Fool and His Harem, Divorce, Three Windows

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