Straight out the gate, I must stand and slow clap for Jerbare. Releasing a double album in 2020 is ballsy as hell (actually a two-parter with separate release dates but I’m counting it!) A combined hour and twenty minutes of ambient-leaning electronic explorations, Opaque should come with the disclaimer: “this album may be more thoroughly enjoyed under the influence of mind-altering narcotics.” I suppose its best we start from the beginning, no turning back now.
“Mirror Writing (Part 1)” is a delicate yet somehow despondent venture that feels buried and/or kinda like tunnel vision. The percussion is immensely dry (oxymoron?). Ya whatever, it makes sense when you hear it. It is an incredibly captivating track that loses a bit of its bite when the vocals kick in around the five-minute mark; for whatever reason they simply don’t jive with the music, in part probably due to soft chops and an overall weird timbre. Jerbare also chooses to incorporate multiple languages and backwards talk throughout the albums, which although bold, I feel detracts from the general mood the music creates. “Space & Time” is a slow building trip that legitimately loops you into a trance, with deep atmospheric layers coated in a dreamy pulse that could either pass for relaxation music or a movie score; by far the highlight of part one of Opaque, the absence of vocals allows more space for this track to breathe, and yes, you will notice a trend here, most if not all of the sections I enjoyed on this project were sans vocals.
“Moral Compass” drops in like it’s trying to be a rap, which in theory can work. Tons of trip hop artists I adore meld rap and electronic seamlessly, like Tricky and Roots Manuva, probably tops in my book. The issue with “Moral Compass” is that I don’t get a good sense of their melding, and instead they sit juxtaposed awkwardly. Same can be said for “Swing/Swung (Reprise),” which builds off of a simple soft melody and heavy backbeat, but loses a lot of its flow through the midsection with some overly doctored vocals, and then goes out strongly in the last minute with some trippy, whimsical Radiohead-tinged effect loops. Getting my drift? These tracks would have scored tops marks without question as instrumental tracks.
To avoid repeating myself too much I’m going to brisk over part two. The vocals are ever more present, too echoey and ultimately again detrimental to some solid pieces of music. “Grooves-Over Eyes” makes a solid attempt at a back-and-forth on the vocals, but I’m far more drawn to what’s happening behind that: killer beats and simple melodies that I can hang on for days. I love the idea of featured vocalists on many of the tracks, an artist like Bonobo can take that medium and essentially use different voices to shape out the themes on his records; when executed properly this can lead to some earth-shattering electronic wizardry. With Jerbare, I’m convinced the studio and production chops are there and truly, it’s just a matter of honing in those vocals and/or leaning towards a more instrumental approach.
Written by Lee Ferguson
*Edited by Chris Aitkens