Some records begin slowly, with lengthy intro tracks and ambient swells. Nothing Is Final by Brooklyn drum and bass duo Jonatti begins with a couple seconds of whirring bell-like noises before a voice enters, saying: “You know… I’ve been thinking.” With no further warning, you’re plugged into Jonatti’s world.
This may be their first record, but if it lacks any of the newbie jitters present in some debut albums, that’s because bassist Jono Stewart and drummer Matti Dunietz are already well integrated into the network of indie shows in New York City. Notably, they play together in the funk-inspired With Snack, and each boasts a handful of other projects—projects that, like Nothing Is Final, benefit from a lack of formal borders, and are constantly swirling and fusing with each other. Over the course of the eight tracks on the record, Matti and Jono frequently employ the creative output of collaborators like Adu Matory, Moki Kawaguchi, Evan Lane, Joonas Lemetyinen, and other creatives that will be mentioned in this review.
The varying guest features from song to song might also be why Nothing Is Final is able to cover a whole range of different moods. “A Bag Of Instincts/If I Have To” (the first track) keeps gaining momentum as it goes on, with Adu’s ad libs condensing into distorted, filtered verse, scattered drum beats growing from tiny sparks into surging rhythms that will come to characterize Nothing, and of course, Jono’s lyrical bass playing tying the whole thing together. Adu creates the image of an over-wrought, paranoid narrator doling out his desperate resolutions. Something about his delivery makes this seem eerily familiar, and it locks in with the rest of the song.
But the very next track, “By Chance/You’ll Fly,” featuring vocals from singer/songwriter Keziah Niambi, is nothing if not downright uplifting. Her voice chops in the best of ways, and superfast Drum n Bass beats—counter-intuitively—give her space to explore different facets of her instrument. She sings and raps, and the beats change in pattern, but are always reliably there.
These moods are developed further in later songs, although the record is not above some hilarious absurdity—and also genuine despair. On “Conceptual Sex,” Adu yells about bonobos and he and Jono dissolve into fits of laughter towards the end of the track (you can hear Jono exclaiming “AMAZING” through gasps in the seconds after the song is over). Throughout “The Narrator,” Adu gets, frankly, scary, asking questions that we have probably asked ourselves, but are maybe too embarrassed to admit. “Has the Internet made me distracted?” he asks, “Is our friendship over? Why won’t I go to sleep?” A very different kind of laughter ends this track.
I want to mention one more collaborator: during “My Narrator,” poet Lizzy Francis makes her entrance. Her voice is smooth and hypnotic and acts as a bridge between the frantic drum patterns and Adu’s banter. It’s also cool to see two creative worlds combine. And it’s the perfect lead in to “Modern Day Love Song,” the cool down track on the album. This song begins with Jordan McAfee’s (singer of Ackerman) gentle vocals and harmonies, and as it winds down, Lizzy starts again, this time delayed and chopped, so we only hear certain words. The song ends with bass harmonics and sparkly figures reminiscent of those that started the album.
Although Nothing Is Final seems replete—full of rhythm and energy—the more I listen to the record, the more I’m struck by it’s space, and inclusivity. Because of the speed of the Drum n Bass beats, it can seem chaotic and ever-changing, but viewed from a different perspective it is stable and placid—a constant field open for addition and interpretation. It’s like the heartbeat of a city, the motion of the Union Square subway station after 5 pm on a weekday. The title of the record is an open admission: ‘these songs will only ever be one rendition of ephemeral works,’ it seems to say, ‘come join our process.’ In a conversation with Jono, I complimented him on the record, but he told me,
Life wrote that
I just watched it happen
It’s an exciting project, and an excellent listen, and if you’ve read any of my previous reviews for No Smoking, you know I’m already curious to go see them live. You can keep up with Jonatti on Facebook—go like their page! Buy this shit too. Also, see them play live 12/4 at C’mon Everybody!