Across three slim, beautiful albums, Nosaj Thing has carved out a strange corner of the beat scene. They’re quiet, minimal works—check out all those one-word track titles!—that evade easy description, at once conventionally head-nodding and experimentally composed, with human sighs and breaths fitting in neatly alongside gloaming space-age synths. “Cohesive” doesn’t even begin to describe them; Drift, Home, and Fated sound like they were cut from a single transmission from a distant universe.
But the new Parallels marks a turning point for Jason Chung. After his gear was stolen in 2015 along with years of work, he took the blow as an opportunity for a hard reboot. No one would mistake the end result for anybody else, but Parallels is a decidedly exploratory record, teasing out the various threads that previous tracks commingled, giving ideas more room to breathe and grow.
Each track explores a solitary, focused idea. First single “All Points Back To U” and the later “U G” find the pulse of an alien nightclub, suggesting a similar beat-to-dance trajectory as Four Tet. But both tracks are followed by abrupt stylistic shifts, with “Form” tracing a glowing, Oneohtrix-like melody for three luminous minutes and the ominous “Get Like” evoking the pitch-black oblivion of Soundcloud rap. Previous albums have found unlikely centerpieces with seamless vocal collaborations—Fated’s “Cold Stares” remains one of Chance The Rapper’s most inspired vocal experiments—and here Zuri Marley pops up for a low-key love song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Jessie Ware album. The album closes with “Sister,” a warm, sentient track that could loop right back into 2009’s Drift. For all its probity, Parallels is of a piece with its predecessors, another curvilinear and sinuous 30-minute odyssey from one of the most consistent and daring producers working.