I’ve not been in much of a deep, lengthy intro mood this month. So in the tradition of keeping things short and sweet, we’re so glad you’re here! I haven’t had as much time as I normally do to sift through the exciting crop of new releases in March, but one in particular blew me away. In fact, all of the records covered here are well worth your time and investment. Because we only bring you the best.
We hope you are well. Happy listening, and always feel free to drop your picks and thoughts on the Heavy Blog channel on Facebook. Thanks for being legendary.
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis – Carnage
There’s an argument to be made that Nick Cave hasn’t released a definitive dud in his entire professional career. In similar fashion to Tom Waits, the man’s discography is only comparable to itself, so disappointments always seem relative only to he and his Bad Seeds’ other projects. He’s an artist who exists in his own orbit, only able to disappoint within the context of his own staggering catalog. But regardless of how one approaches the quality of Nick Cave’s body of work over the past half decade, it would be difficult to argue that he’s on anything less than an artistic tear. Fueled by personal tragedy and compositional re-awakening, Skeleton Tree and Ghosteen are arguably two of his most immediate, sparse, and devastating works to date. His new album with long-time collaborator Warren Ellis, Carnage, does absolutely nothing to slow his roll.
One of the more unique aspects of Cave’s most recent work (starting for our purposes from the syrupy grooves of Push Away the Sky through the present day) is its subdued nature. Anyone who’s heard Abattoir Blues or Dig! Lazarus! Dig! should be fully aware of how raucous Cave can get when the whole band’s together. But this latest stretch of records finds Cave in a more contemplative, minimalist mood. As stated above, some of this (at least in content) can be attributed to the death of his teenaged son. But this movement was well underway before that tragedy, and Carnage feels like an appropriate and intensely effective apex of this journey. Start to finish, it’s one of the most accessible and gorgeously composed record’s the man and his collaborators have yet produced.
Carnage is a pretty stirring title, and given the literal definition of the word one would not be faulted for assuming it would be chock full of lyrical piss and vinegar. While an undercurrent of anxiety and rage exists in tracks like “White Elephant” (“I’ll shoot you in the fuckin’ face if you think about comin’ around here” is pretty easy to dissect), much of the record feels very sad. “Albuquerque” is one of the most depressingly beautiful tracks Cave has ever written, while “Lavender Fields” is a soulful, stirring ode that is an absolute joy to listen to. The intermingling of anger, melancholy, and bracing emotional honesty make Carnage one of Cave’s best records in a good while, and a worthy addition to his collection of stellar albums.
I’ve come to the conclusion that some artists are incapable of making “minor” works. While some records are obviously much more epic in scope than others, transcendent songwriters can accomplish as much in 30-45 minutes as many can across their entire discographies. Nick Cave is one of those artists, and Carnage is everything but minor. One of my favorite records of 2021 so far in any genre.
Nubiyan Twist – Freedom Fables
When I think of Nubiyan Twist, I think of boisterous joy, of exuberance, of a celebration of the pleasures, and travails, of life. On Freedom Fables, the group seem to agree with me, doubling down on their scintillating version of afro-jazz, filling it with clever insights on life (“I want to be free for you / want to go easy on me though / I’m learning slowly”), an atmosphere of freedom which belies the album’s name, and an insistence on making everything as groovy as possible. However, continuing the group’s tradition, this easy-going feeling and bright atmosphere doesn’t for a second mean that musicality, complexity, and talent are left by the way-side. The album, like previous releases, is filled to the brim with great vocals (drawing both on contemporary ideas and traditional languages and compositions), fantastic and varied brass instruments, evocative keys, and much more.
It’s a smorgasbord! Just listen to the opening track, “Morning Light”, and feel that initial groove taking over you. Then, ride it all the way to the center of the track, where a saxophone will announce itself and take you on a wild journey in the form of its solo, backed by amazing bass, and a clever piano you’ll need to follow yourself. Lastly, as we enter into the track’s outro, you’re going to be treated to what I call the “Nubiyan Twist Special”. This describes the group’s penchant of suddenly taking what you thought was the track’s constant rhythm or tempo and mixing it up. Here, everything becomes a lot more swing-y, drunk in a sense, drawn out beats beautifully accentuated by more traditional sounding drums and ideas.
Which, of course, beautifully leads into the darker “Tittle Tattle” and, from there, the album opens up before you like the veritable oyster, scintillating in its pearl-like effervescence. Lots of fancy words! I’m listening to the album as I’m writing this and its immediate effect is to make me want to write like a mid 20th century bravado getting drunk at some Casablanca bar. Alright, enough of that for now: if you want to feel the same way, if you want to feel your life flowing faster, right out from your hips and through every other bone you might possibly possess, just hit play on Freedom Fables. It’s literally impossible for you to regret it.
Citizen – Life In Your Glass World
Change, growing up, evolving or whatever you would like to classify it as is inevitable for any band. Citizen aren’t a new band by any means having released their first album 10 years ago. With time comes life experiences, touring with bands that may or may not be an influence and in this case going out on a limb and self-producing the record themselves. Having previously used the expertise of veteran producer Will Yip, the band decided to go it alone producing the record themselves and they have landed on a gold mine. Don’t get me wrong, Yip is a fantastic producer, but he is best known to showcase the talents of more “indie” acts and this record is Citizen stepping outside of that circle of comfort, bearing it all and let me tell you, IT FUCKING WORKS! This record is just incredible. As a band that has previously utilized sounds that could be compared to emo, shoegaze and post hardcore, this new direction is spot on.
The production is just incredible between Mat’s incredible singing, the jangly guitar tones and THAT BASS. The rhythm section is on point and I just want to dance from the moment the aptly titled Death Dance Approximately kicks in. They have truly stumbled upon something with this new-found sound that reminds me of notable dance rock bands such as Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and The Killers. I would even go so far as to say there are notes of post punk. I love the fuzzed-out guitars on tracks such as Glass World (One of my personal favorites). Mat still continues to use his punctuated sing/yell approach on songs like Pedestal and it is just brilliant. The whole album has this sense of aggression and urgency keeping you completely engaged. At no time was I ever bored in the 38 minute run time. If anything, I wanted to hear more but instead I just pressed play again!
This record has been on constant rotation for me since it’s release. I have always been a casual listener of the band, but this record has solidified me as a fan! I can’t wait to see them out on the road and hope they receive the recognition they deserve from this incredible piece of work.
Arab Strap – As Days Get Dark
I have no previous experience with Arab Strap. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of the cult indie act before the publicised announcement of this comeback record and, upon checking out 1998’s much-lauded Philophobia, I quickly decided they weren’t for me. However, the sheer amount of hype surrounding this record (from within the metal community, as much as without) proved too strong to resist and I soon found myself obliged to check it out.
I was instantly transfixed. There’s a reflective self-loathing to Aidan Moffat’s lyrics that I find utterly compelling. I’m not really sure he can be called a singer, but each and every slight variation Moffat introduces to his largely monotone, stream-of-conscious-style delivery is never short of emotionally devastating. In fact, I’m not even sure the eleven tracks contained on As Days Get Dark can accurately be called songs songs, instead coming across as lush musical accomplishments to sullen slam poetry or the ramblings of a Scottish sex-addict.
I shouldn’t like a single thing about this album, but I absolutely adore it. Maybe I’m just speaking from ignorance but, even compared to things like Ruins of Beverast, As Days Get Dark is one of the weirdest records I’ve heard all year and also easily one of the best.