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Reviews: Picastro & Nadja's Fool, Redeemer

Picastro & Nadja's Fool, Redeemer

Fool, Redeemer (full stream here) is a semi-collaborative effort from two Toronto-based groups, blurring together the disorienting folk of Picastro and the ambient drone metal of Nadja. The LP is split evenly between four shorter Picastro compositions and one typically mammoth Nadja track, but the smudging of their respective aesthetics forces each group outside of its usual comfort zone. Considering that neither Picastro nor Nadja is a group I listen to for comfort, I’ll chalk that up as a positive.

Picastro’s half of Fool, Redeemer picks up the looser structure of Nadja songs. Picastro’s four LPs offer their share of drifting, but here the vocals are pushed to the periphery. Opening instrumental “Skullduggery” doesn’t feature any direct involvement from Nadja, but it’s easy to hear that group’s threatening rumble encroaching on Picastro’s usual terrain. “Fire Perfect” is built on the woozy sawing of Liz Hysen’s violin and Nick Storring’s cello, but Nadja’s Aidan Baker adds texturally appropriate bowed guitar. Hysen’s muffled vocals appear briefly near the end of the song, but they’re ushered out by the song’s concluding pizzicato. The wandering “Darnia” dwells mostly on Brandon Miguel Valdivia’s mbira melody during its seven-minute trek. Picastro’s final track, “A New Soul’s Benediction,” visits more traditional territory for the group with Hysen’s weary vocals and acoustic arpeggios leading the way, but it’s a cover of a Static Films song. The absence of a Hysen dreamscape like “Winter Notes,” “Sharks,” or “Hortur” makes the emphasis on texture here even more apparent.

Nadja’s “Venom” reminds me of a historical reimagining of existing source material, like Alien set in the Industrial Revolution. The set-up’s different, with acoustic guitars (including Hysen’s), audible vocals, and Valdivia’s wavering mbira supplanting the pedal-driven drones that curled into Thaumogenesis and Radiance of Shadows. But these unfamiliar accents are delivered by familiar archetypes; it doesn’t take too long for “Venom” to lurch forward into heavier, louder terrain. And whatever era Alien is set in, you know it won’t end well for the majority of the cast, especially after 23 minutes of Nadja’s drone violence.

Thanks to the smearing of styles and cross-pollination of personnel, Fool, Redeemer holds together well as a single piece. I hesitate recommending it as a starting point for Picastro, however, since the textural, loosely structured compositions here aren’t as gripping as the eerie Metal Cares. Nadja’s catalog offers few typically inviting entry points aside from the 2009 covers record The Sun Always Shines on TV (which features massive, impossibly slow renditions of My Bloody Valentine’s “Only Shallow,” Codeine’s “Pea,” Elliott Smith’s “Needle and the Hay,” and others), so the 23-minute “Venom” is a good sign (warning?) of what you’ll get, initial acoustic guitars excepted. Even if you start with Metal Cares and Thaumogenesis, Fool, Redeemer is worth circling back to hear.

The Haul 2010: Nadja's Thaumogenesis

Nadja – Thaumogenesis 2LP+CD – Important, 2010 [2007] – $26 (Newbury St. Newbury Comics, 5/7)

Nadja's Thaumogenesis

Back in 2007 and 2008 I got sucked into the world of Toronto-based ambient/slow-core/shoegaze/drone/metal (sorry, “metalgaze” makes me cringe and all of these tags fit) duo Nadja, starting with two of their full-lengths, Thaumogenesis and Radiance of Shadows. The latter ended up making my top 20 of 2007, but I was soon inundated with other Nadja releases. With fifteen full-lengths since the group’s inception in 2003 (four of which have been re-recorded and re-released), their level of output shames even the otherwise prolific Jesu, even without mentioning all of their splits/EPs/solo releases. (Okay I’ll mention one: Fantasma Parastasie, Aidan Baker’s collaboration with Tim Hecker, is worth checking out.) The secondary problem with this immense discography is that unlike Guided by Voices, Nadja’s releases are less song-oriented and more based on variations on an aesthetic. Do I enjoy their slow-crawl doom-gaze? Sure. Do I need to hear every permutation of it? Not really. Sensing my burnout with stylistic cousin Jesu’s frantic release schedule and diminishing returns, I decided to pick up just a few key Nadja releases, only to encounter a $38 price tag on the LP of Radiance of Shadows. This site (and this meme in particular) is all about putting your money where your mouth is, but even I have limits.

Thankfully Important Records made my decision a little easier by repressing Thaumogenesis on 2LP with bonuses like a James Plotkin remix, a bundled live CD, and gatefold artwork from Seldon Hunt. The main question was how “Thaumogenesis,” the 61:43 long track that comprises the album, would fit onto three sides of vinyl. Surprisingly well, I must say. The split points are noticeable but not distracting, making it seem like three movements of a larger piece rather than a work shoehorned into an ill-fitting format. I even prefer the split points for two reasons: first, I’m more likely to put on 20 minutes of Nadja than commit to a full hour; second, it’s much easier to make mental notes of my favorite moments, many of which appear on side B.

Perhaps I haven’t spent enough time discussing the album itself, which is a shame. Thaumogenesis demonstrates Nadja’s ability to bridge the gaps between all of those disparate genre/style tags I mentioned earlier. It drifts formlessly like the best ambient groups, it has the tonal resonance of shoegaze, its nearly non-existent tempo makes slow-core masters Codeine seem peppy, its reluctance to change chords evokes drone, and the palpable threat and occasional use of violence is definitely metal (the shuddering slabs of distorted guitar closing out side B are downright malicious). I recalled the album being heavier than it actually is, but there’s something devastating in the total effect of these enormous waves of guitar. I did not recall it being slower, but even played at 45 rpm, which I did on a lark, it barely puts one foot in front of the other. I don’t know if I’d ever fully recognized the decaying beauty in the synths glistening behind those mammoth guitar chords. Whether I need to collect all of Nadja’s permutations on this sound is still debatable, but Thaumogenesis reminds me how utterly absorbing this aesthetic can be.