Nicolas Jaar showed up to the 9:30 Club ready to wage a bit of war. Minutes into his two-hour set, he launched a blitzkrieg of lasers and funnels of smoke toward a doting audience with so much force that it felt like an assault — an attack crafted from avant-garde aggression, piercing synths and obscure samples that sounded as though they were being transmitted from a bleak, abandoned planet.
Perhaps it wasn’t that Jaar was putting on a combative performance but that the songs on his latest release, “Sirens,” are inherently intense and vitriolic. The 40-minute album is dark psych gone completely black, created while Jaar observed the ascension of Donald Trump in the United States. The Chilean-born electronic composer told the Fader that America’s foreboding political climate compelled him to examine his own Chilean background. “Sirens” is haunted by the ghost of Augusto Pinochet and the thousands killed by his regime.
For the album’s visuals, Jaar enlisted his father, the controversial Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar. Back in June, the senior Jaar went to Times Square and mounted a glaringly bright neon sign in the shape of a U.S. map that read “THIS IS NOT AMERICA” over a building. It’s a statement that seems especially prescient in the wake of last week’s election, and it tapped into what Jaar was feeling leading up to his album’s release. An image of his father’s installation is the cover art for “Sirens.”
If Tuesday was any indication, fans of Jaar’s earlier music have connected with his sobering themes — and maybe that connection was stronger than ever as emotions ran raw just after Trump’s presidential victory. A sold-out crowd loyally followed Jaar through his labyrinth of warped sounds with their eyes closed and their arms waving in the air. Behind his collection of computers and wires, Jaar controlled the room like a sinister puppeteer — when he wanted dancing, there was dancing; when he wanted swaying, there was swaying.
Jaar’s ambient noise interludes would fizzle out and suddenly introduce moments of explosive dance energy. Ironically, it was one of the heaviest songs, “No,” that became the evening’s lightest. Jaar sings, “Ya dijimos no/Pero el si está en todo/Lo de adentro y de afuera/Lo de lejos y de cerca/Lo que todos hemos visto/Y lo que ni siquiera dicen/Ya dijimos no!” (“We already said no/But the yes is in everything/In what is inside and outside/In what is far and near/What we all have seen/And what is never said/We already said no.”) The room burst into a sea of oscillating limbs, rocking wildly to the tune’s deconstructed cumbia beat — untethered from the weight of the song’s grave message.