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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.