Jason Chung might be the L.A. beat scene’s premier journeyman. Alongside the defining traits of his more visible peers (Daedelus’s feracity, the Internet’s nihilism, Baths’s intimate morbidity, Flying Lotus’s star-student prodigiousness), it’s the flexibility of Chung’s Nosaj Thing project that stands out. The oblong, atmospheric architecture of glitch-hop and cloud-rap give Chung a sound that soaks into the lyrical density of Busdriver, one of everal local rappers he’s collaborated with, as easily as it stretches and folds around remixes for artists as diverse as Boris, HEALTH, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Philip Glass. His solo work, including his third LP, Fated, presents the same sound in mostly instrumental form, and amounts to anodyne, ambient downtempo, whose gentle charisma invites further attention without always rewarding it.
Fellow Californians Whoarei and Chance the Rapper lend vocals to “Don’t Mind Me” and “Cold Stares,” respectively, but shifting layers of swung snares, fuzzed-out chipmunk soul, warm synth washes, and chilly, metallic textures, divided into 15 brief tracks, form the album’s bulk. The short-cut format places Chung firmly in the tradition of underground West Coast producers like Madlib and Peanut Butter Wolf, whose high-quantity releases reflect a kind of giddy, crate-digging restlessness. But Nosaj Thing’s sound is too subtle and leisurely paced for ideas to develop much in two minutes, the average running time on Fated. The longest track, “Don’t Mind Me,” is the finest, because Chung gives its motifs enough time to evolve: the lilting vocal lead, wavering synth melody, and chipmunk harmony lock into step by the halfway mark, at which point the beat grows steadier and the elements rearrange for a negative-image inversion of what came before. Elsewhere, the songs’ brevity stifles any comparable sort of structural nuance.
What’s left is top-shelf background music, and that’s not meant to be faint praise. Fated is limited in scope, frustratingly laconic, and—as befits a journeyman— somewhat derivative, but it’s never boring. As on 2009’s Drift and 2013’s Home, Chung weaves recognizably current trends into Fated’s familiar fabric of mournful melodies and jittery, two-step rhythms. The chiming Windows 95 sonics popularized by the Hippos in Tanks and PC Music labels festoon opener “Sci,” while the far-off industrial found sounds of Modern Love and Hyperdub are threaded throughout the album. At their best, these bits and pieces fall into conversation with each other, as they do on the deceptively shambolic “Uv3.” More often, though, they cascade, but never quite accumulate, and even repeat listens can’t keep the airy, occasionally evocative Fated from fading away.