I appreciate unpredictability in a band when the people involved can pull it off just right. Not everyone does, mind you. There’s a good reason some bands just stay the course and do what they do well for as long as they can, and there’s nothing wrong with that strategy. But some artists feel compelled to grow and change.
The Toronto-based duo Nadja have about a million full-length, split/collaboration, and EP releases to their credit, and I defy you to find two that sound alike. I don’t have all of their recordings personally, though I’ve heard just about every one of them, and they seem incapable of repeating themselves. Aidan Baker (guitars, vocals, other stuff) and Leah Buckareff (bass, vocals, other stuff) always seem to have something new up their sleeves, and when they’re ready to unleash their latest creation, it’s always safe to throw all expectations out the window.
Nadja have recorded for a number of labels including Profound Lore, The End, Crucial Blast, and Alien8, but their latest record “Dagdrøm” is out on their own label Broken Spine Productions, set up as an outlet for Nadja’s, Baker’s, and any other related project’s music. They’re keeping things in house, and for a band as diverse and ambitious as Nadja, that’s probably a wise choice, because that way there are no weird expectations or demands. Baker and Buckareff are free to create whatever moves them, not that they necessarily felt handcuffed in the past, and they can have ultimate control over their art and how it’s presented.
One thing Nadja always did very well was create moods. Often, their songs were long soundscapes that could lull you into an intellectual slumber before you were jarred awake by piercing fuzz or drubbing doom or something to pull you suddenly from the fog. They always made great concentration music, and their “Bliss Torn From Emptiness” was an album I listened to practically on loop a few years ago when I was working on a major project at my last job. It kept me stimulated but calm, and while it promoted and encouraged my creativity (the little of it I was allowed to employ at that position) it never distracted. Much of Nadja’s music feels that way, but there’s something wholly different about ” Dagdrøm.” The record is far more conventional than what these two normally conjure, and they work toward making music that could be understood and embraced by a wider audience. It’s still widely smeared with noise and fuzz, but it’s a step in a new direction.
A slight disclaimer about the paragraph above: Conventional for Nadja does not mean formulaic or boring. They have their own style of making more traditional types of songs, but their way still is way different than what 99 percent of other bands are doing. We’re still talking songs that top out at 10 minutes or more, and there’s a very Nadja way of going about these tracks that still keep them in their own universe, and they’re not trying to find favor in someone else’s. A good reference point would be their 2009 covers album “When I See the Sun Always Shines on TV,” where they revealed a glimpse of what they could do with other people’s work, only to put their own spin and gloss on it. It was something dramatically different, but it made sense. So does “Dagdrøm,”
There are four tracks on this record, and there are some slight reference points as far as sound goes, but none are spot on. I can hear bits and pieces of My Bloody Valentine, Xasthur, early Smashing Pumpkins, and Sonic Youth, bands that all embrace heavy noise but also weave in tons of different things into the chaos. “One Sense Alone” opens the record gently, but not long after it bursts wide open, Baker sings underneath 100 million lbs. of sound, and a slight sense of Pink Floyd at their most cerebral and psychedelic bleeds in. It’s a song you can let wash over you and take you into a syrupy dream, though the doom punches always bring you back around again. “Falling Out of Your Head” reveals some attitude, something not usually a part of Nadja recordings, but the bluesy guitar lines, dusty vibe, and eventually tumultuous exclamation points pounded at the end of their melodies shows a new face. The song is fuzzed out, and bursting with personality, and it’s one of the biggest revelations on the album.
The title cut is flooded with heaviness and murk, but at the same time, it’s kind of blissed out. Once again, Baker’s vocals are buried under everything, but it works well that way because they almost act like dialog from a dream, and the effect of the whole piece feels like enveloping your head in a pillow case full of stars. The song is numbing and eventually slows its pace to a slurry crawl. The 14:11 closer “Space, Time, and Absence” cracks open, with the drums (courtesy of Mac McNeilly formerly of The Jesus Lizard) way up front and the fuzz at a minimum, and their commitment to flat-out rock never is been more apparent. There’s a structure that comes as close to verse-chorus as Nadja ever has (or possibly ever will), and elsewhere there are surging melodies and a trippy finish that caps off the story just right.
Once again Nadja have returned with a pleasant surprise of an album, something that forged yet another new path for this explorative duo. “Dagdrøm” is a vision all its own, stamped with the trademark Nadja philosophy, and it’s already made for hours of great listening. I’ll always heavily anticipate any piece of music this band puts out, because I know that no matter what they create, I’ll be taking an adventure to a place I’ve never been before.
For more on the band, go here: http://188.8.131.52/~coldsnap/aidan/nadja.htm
To buy the album, go here: http://brokenspine.bigcartel.com/
For more on the label, go here: http://brokenspineprods.wordpress.com/