Review: Nadja - Autopergamene (2010)
This latest release from Canadian drone dreamers Nadja is typical of the band in structure. Two diffuse 25 minute songs encapsulate a much denser 7 minute piece on the album, which is nothing out of the ordinary for these masters of the incredibly slow and epic. The first track, "You Write Your Name in My Skin", begins with a slow, swelling, ever multiplying layered structure of bass, feedback, static and distant violin that never fails to sound in tune. Really, for the first 11 minutes, that's it. The track doesn't actually pick up a rhythm until 12 minutes or so. And what a rhythm it is. While the sonic envelope of this album is pretty much identical to most of the band's previous releases (the horn-like drones in the background of the heavier sections are a welcome novelty), the drum section here takes on a much more solemn timbre, and the rest of the instruments follow suite. This album's opening track moves into emotional territory that isn't so often traveled for Nadja; this track is genuinely solemn and downbeat. There is a certain specific emptiness and sense of loss or demotion that really comes through, and as the song progresses, the full monolithic enormity of the tragedy at hand becomes ever more apparent.
The album's midsection, "You Write Your Name In My Head", is immediately fucking heavy, exploding with a chugging rhythm section and an ear splitting static drone that just does not quit. The melodic feedback swells behind the rhythm retain the depression present in the first track, but multiply and introduce a new element of danger which is quickly reinforced by sinister screams and growls.
The album's third and final track, "You Write My Name In Your Blood", begins with relatively peaceful, tonal acoustic guitar chords under plenty of delay and reverb.
Backward swells follow and reinforce the heavy but quiet state of mind so far induced.
Soon the same rhythmic and bass motifs from the first track come crashing in (around 8:00) but at an even slower pace than before. By 19:00, the momentum has again dissipated, this time giving way to layers of feminine drone-whisper-and-low-singing over the ever-present bass rumble and some quiet, responding male vox, seeming to sing the track's title.
The production on this album, while adequate and by no means unlistenable, seems to introduce a lot more harshness into the spectrum than most Nadja releases. The high-frequency static drones and splashes of feedback are particularly cutting; they jump right out and assault the ears. While this may be fully intentional, and while it certainly makes the overall sound of the album more formidable, it significantly degrades the stamina of the disc (unless you are looking to give yourself some headaches). Again, it doesn't come anywhere near making the album unlistenable, but it is an issue to keep in mind. Drums on this album cut through with more force and clarity than other Nadja releases, and it is little surprise considering how well composed they are.
In terms of composition, this is unmistakeably a "Nadja" release. All the familiar elements are here: feedback, drone bass, massive drums playing at extremely slow tempos, and all the distortion in the world. This disc has a very distinct feel, however, that few other releases from the band exhibit strongly, and that feel is in the album's poignancy. The drum part for the first track absolutely crushes and is easily one of the best things about the album, and combined with the incredibly somber melodies and progressions, it makes for an coldly intense emotional experience. There is nothing technically daunting going on here in terms of theory, but a whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Also making a welcome return are distorted and buried vocals, a la Touched, in the album's middle track. The way that they integrate with the ambiance and sound scape surrounding them is absolutely fascinating and you wont really hear it anywhere else.
All in all, this is both a departure for Nadja and a reaffirmation of the bands winning formula. If you, like me, happen to really like that formula and also happen to have the time to sit down and actively listen (and a sound system you can trust), pick this one up.
Production - 6.5
Composition - 8
Originality - 9