Thursday, February 11, 2010

NADJA "UNDER THE JAGUAR SUN" (Beta-Lactam Ring Records)

I love Nadja. Let's get that out of the way first. Almost the same way that i love Skullflower, or Campbell Kneale, or Boris. They're pretty much in that "can do no wrong" camp that i shuffle certain artists off to. Said confidence in the artist's vision makes it all the more disheartening when i have to step back and say that no, this one isn't too great, i was wrong, you are not musically infallible. Such is the case with "Under the Jaguar Sun", Nadja's first (and hopefully only) foray into the dreaded "let's make multiple CD's that have to be played simultaneously to get the full effect" mentality-it's just too fucking hard for the listener to set that shit up to engage with properly, and more often than not the focus is so much on making interesting "stereo" style sounds that the goal of making an awesome record is lost. It happened to Boris when they made their lamentable (but superbly monikered) "Dronevil" double album, and it's happened to Nadja now, but at least Nadja had the presence of mind to turn in one decent album, which also at least contains one totally monumental, definitive song. The label blurb states that although the discs are designed to be played in tandem, both represent a unique style and "work equally as well on their own." Would that such a boast about these projects was ever true. Go ahead and put it to the test-tell me that each disc of "Zaireeka" is cool without the other three playing with it. Tell me that "Dronevil II" has anything even barely passing as interesting pressed on it. You can't, because they don't. It's a terrible gimmick and any decent band would have just put all those sounds on the one record and made the songs as they had originally intended before they got to thinking that the easiest way to come up with multiple discs of material would be to just separate the sounds and give the listener a fucking headache trying to sync them up to play properly (adding to the WTF-edness of this argument, at least for Nadja, is that they have no shortage of material whatsoever. this is a band that has about 30 albums in a five year span).
So Disc One, titled "Tezcatlipoca (DARKNESS)" is the album proper, consisting of five tracks stretching 60 minutes in length, and it's a fairly decent Nadja effort. It's not near as bludgeoning as "Corrasion" (my fave) or "Touched", although two of the tracks are remarkably heavy (the aptly titled "Windstorm" and "Earthquake"); instead it hovers more in the "drifting/floating" realm of Nadja's output, bearing more than a passing resemblance to the live album "Trembled" as well as the masterpiece that is "Bodycage". All the hallmarks are there-the swirl and whorl of blissed out, delayed guitar effects, swarming all over the headphones; the dense, monolithically textured fuzz guitars; the simple monotonous ultra-distorted bass; and of the course, the stumbling, staggering, massively echoed drum machines loping along like they were drunk or sleepwalking. Aidan's vocals come as both soft, panning whispers and ultra-low pitch-shifted sub-death pulsations, hearkening back to the band's roots as a doom metal vessel. It's all the standard glorious mess of headfucking sonic goop that Nadja churns out so well, and then we reach the nadir-the absolutely, achingly beautiful-but-so-fucking-crushing wallop of "Earthquake"-15 minutes of pummeling repetition, a larger than infinity ultra-melodic bassline swathed in scores of fuzz guitars and delerium echoes, like Jesu's fractured pop vision filtered through the sound aesthetic of Electric Wizard. So fucking good. This is seriously one of Nadja's best tracks EVER and it's inclusion here is more or less what propels me to rate this as a slightly higher than average Nadja effort.
But wait. There's still that second disc. This is the addendum material. Entitled "Quetzalcoatl (WIND)", it's an hour of vague and near pointless somewhat ethnic-flavored drone. It's super boring to listen to, not at all transcendent or meditative and i can't imagine it adding much of anything to the album as presented on disc one. Why the fuck is it even there? Presumably to cause you problems under the guise of granting you a totally immersive true-stereo listening experience. All it will do, in actuality, is cause you anger and distress as you try and move all your stereo shit into the same room and press the play buttons on two units simultaneously. Ugh.
Add these elements together and you've got a fair Nadja record. For anyone new to the group, this is NOT the record to start off with. For the obsessives like myself, you've gotta have it on the shelf. You just don't have to listen to it all that often.

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