REVIEW: Jacques Greene, Feel Infinite (2017)

“And if you gaze too long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into you.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

There’s an iconic scene near the end of Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Many know it as the “Star Gate sequence.” In it, the main protagonist, after being left as the lone survivor from his crew in space, decides to investigate the surroundings of his planet, only to find himself forcibly pulled into an uncharted vortex. It’s the Star Gate, and within it, the commander becomes thrusted through the universe at speeds that visibly transcend the physical plane – all form reduced to an illustrious trail of vibrant beams and amorphous shapes. It’s terrifying, and equally as beautiful.

The flowing colors, as brilliant as they are various, appear in front of his now-mangled face like the passing lights of metropolitan skylines folded and skewed into hypnotic rhythms. The vortex, light-speed; the sensation, slow with the movement of dreams.

The commander – though violently shaking in the space-bending turbulence – finds himself quaintly sitting with an intense engagement, marveling at the sight and letting the trail take him with it. The tunnel continues. Lights become supernovas, supernovas become galaxies, galaxies become atoms, and the man becomes formless. The universe has deconstructed before him, and the only audible sound in the foreground is the dissonant layers of a vibrating drone. It’s continuous, and somehow simultaneously tranquil and unnerving. It’s the sound of darkness.

Not many fears are as viscerally primordial as the fear of darkness. Representing the ultimate unknown, we instinctively seek defense from it from the moment we can remember. In the Stone Age, we bred this fear as a tool to uncover what predator may lie in the shadows. In the process, we created fire. In the modern age, we maintain this fear as a defense to cover what predator may lie within ourselves. In this process, we innovated distraction. For better or worse, the idea of a void remains.

And yet, like the space commander’s ogling of his deconstruction before him, the darkness does not always lend itself to fear. For those willing, the internal conversations that arise in a lone, dark room can often be enlightening. And if the person finds themselves persistent, and subsequently brave enough – freeing, almost.

This same power can also be found within the confines of the nightclub. For what is usually considered a haven for bacchanal behavior and material emptiness – a void, put simply – the club can also be a place of enlightenment. The flashing lights, often strobes blinding any discernible form, lend themselves to the face of primordial elation between the glimpses of darkness. Under the roof of the rave, voices render themselves as only dissonant layers of the ambiance, reducing the sounds of idle conversation as meaningless within the all-encompassing body-shifting bass. As in those who confront darkness, the club allows the soul to fully unveil itself in the midst of perceived chaos. The individual, allowing itself to be free, becomes part of the whole.

In a March interview with The Fader, Canadian DJ and producer Jacques Greene confronts this misconception of the meaningless of partying, claiming, “I don’t really see the club as escapism because that’s where you see people being the most ‘them’ versions of themselves — they’re not escaping who they are…it’s actually affirming and true and honest. I find that very emotional. Your job, your taxes, the way you’re dressed or present yourself at a dinner party, that’s not real. I would say that once you’re four drinks deep and listening to a song that you enjoy, and you’re with friends or trying to woo a girl or a guy — that’s true.”

For an artist that has long certified his career as a purveyor of club music, Greene doesn’t shy from defending the innate humanity that can blossom in the pandemonium of a party. “I love the club as [a] social microcosm. You get snapshots of people’s true colors and I love that for the good and the bad,” he describes. With the release of Greene’s debut full-length album, Feel Infinite, the LuckyMe producer explores the beauty of dance music from all angles, emphasizing the deep serenity of engaging in a dance-floor too often distorted from the cynicism that accompanies darkness.

As such, Feel Infinite approaches the shadows with rhythmic formation from the very beginning. Album opener, “Fall,” a slow-burning introduction founded on the gradual steps of a bass line marching over layers of arpeggiated waves, sets much of the tone of the album. It’s a cold environment, one where percussive shells tatter in the distance like trickles of rain and chopped R&B vocals are echoed into gusts of wind that breathe life into a melody. The coldness, however, does not stipulate grief – it’s simply night time, and the moon is still young.

The song that follows immediately, the title track, “Feel Infinite,” serves to carry the journey forward, and to provide the bounce necessary for the next step. That slow burn that wrung in the album now sizzles through the phases of saw synths easing in and out, with a filtered synth-line that eventually gives way to Greene’s characteristic garage-tinged rhythms. The track marks the romance between a sparse airiness and a raucous 2-step beat that illustrates much of the LP. The pounding kicks demand urgency, the slow-moving bass line and minimal instrumentation provide comfort. The feet need to move, yet the mind relishes in the body ritual. Red and blue form to make a beautiful hue, particular one drenched with the spirituality of closed eyes.

This particular brand of garage and house-influenced electronic music that exists in the breadth of the cosmos does not come as a surprise for Greene. Coming from a background in the Montreal music scene, the producer points to other local acts that have experimented with dark ambient music as inspiration, particularly post-rock pioneers, Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

“There’s also this side of me that’s tied to Montreal music: [at one point] the biggest things in my city were early Arcade Fire and Godpseed! You Black Emperor — very melodic, intense, melodramatic stuff…There was this thing happening in the city of wearing your heart on the sleeve, almost like no irony and full feeling. So I think the no-irony thing is big in my music…I like to think my music allows me to reach this loving and caring and empathetic part of myself.”

Consequently, even in the albums most up-beat moments, this tendency to draw back into an astral soundscape reveals itself. On the disco-soaked “Real Time,” Greene taps into a quintessential house music groove, delivering a hypnotic vocal loop that leisurely climbs itself into a climax of four-on-the-floor percussion and an irresistible bass line. It’s music for the weekend, practically music packaged for the dance-floor, yet three-quarters in, the tone momentarily shifts. Much of the noise driving the energy suddenly dissipates, leaving only the bareness of the vocal and a low thump pulsating. The moment sustains, like a moment of sober clarity within a fracas. A high-attacked wave then sweeps over from the left, the sounds of distant analogue jitters from the right. It’s the sound of “melodic, intense, melodramatic stuff.” It’s the empathetic part of Greene taking control of the floor. And then – without warning – the bass kicks back in and the party continues.

“The essence of the record is to draw emotions and moments that above all, feel human within the context of dance music,” Greene described of the album in a press release, “I want it to be celebratory of all that we feel and do and experience - the beautiful, the good, and the bad.”

Keenly enough, no track fully reflects this sentiment as viscerally as album closer, “All The Light You See.” Built around layers of chopped and reverb-heavy vocal samples, the song opens with the vaporous coos of a female singer. “It’s not your fault,” she faintly utters every few bars, words that reverberate and explode into the background like dust in the atmosphere. For those seconds, the climate is practically Arctic.

And then, the bass looms. Monolithic and deep, the rumbling charges the track like a sustained take-off that roars the Earth. The intensity is sweeping. By midway into the outro, the production is now decorated in enough pads, textures and moving particles of sound to simulate the pressured thrust of the orbit. Then, the momentum hushes.

Entering a new dimension, the song has now reached it’s Star Gate tunnel.

It’s in that moment that you can see the space commanders eyes in the music. The wormhole becomes clear: arpeggiated synths flow like flashing lights bending before the metal craft; ducking soundwaves compress and thump the production like the onslaught of turbulence or the panicked breaths that accompany it; the vast bass surrounds the entire sight like dark matter to the cosmos. If entering the unknown had a song, surely this would be it – and, thanks to Greene, it’s beautiful.

In the end of the Star Gate portal in A Space Odyssey, the space commander suddenly finds himself awakened in a marvelous ivory room, though now a body decrepit in old age. As he lays, he peers forward and points towards a rectangular figure in the distance – it’s another portal, black and abysmal as the space he appeared from. Signing towards it in acknowledgement and acceptance, the commander suddenly transforms into the form of a glowing fetus, floating and shielded by an orb of light above his bed. Truly awakened, he has evolved to embody the ultimate being. The commander, in his new body, enters the portal and appears again in the midst of space, in the midst of darkness.

There, he becomes his true self. There, he is boundless. There, he is free.