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Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: Nadja live at Whammy Bar, Auckland, NZ 5th October 2010

I recently discovered Canada's two piece Nadja via the  Avalanchers forum, a forum dedicated to fans of Godflesh, Justin Broadrick and other such sonic noise. It's hard to describe the sound of Nadja except that they seem to fit within the description of and tastes of those who frequent said space on the internet.
The fact that Nadja were actually playing NZ and I was getting to witness them live was one of the things that made me finally decide to start up this webzine/blog thing.

The Whammy Bar is a perfect place for ambient drone and dirge music. It's an underground concrete bunker with irregular walls that seem perfect for creating standing wave harmonic reinforcement. As it was the sound from all the acts was impressive.
Upon arriving at the door, I ensured I made the most of the cheaper than usual CDs at the merch stand and picked up a decent number of Nadja (from their extensive discography) as well as an Aidan Baker solo release. I've written up some brief reviews after the below live review and the awesome bit of footage from the show taken by Rangiofthelight.

Once inside the Whammy bar, local electronic ambient artist Nigel Wright had just begun his set. I hadn't seen anything like this live in years. It was refreshing seeing someone performing washes of ambient Tangerine Dream style sounds through an electronic medium. Occasionally he would reach over and pluck the string of a guitar which seemed to be channelled though a laptop and a keyboard. The resulting sweeping sounds built up and up on top of each other creating an intense deep ambience. I'd be keen to check him out again some time.

Next up was Nadja's Aidan Baker performing his own solo material. This had a lot of similarity to Nigel Wright's, only the method of creation was different. Aidan's guitar fed into a table covered in guitar pedals arranged in a way that made sense only to him. By manipulating loop sequences, delays, reverbs and god knows what else, the sound coming out of his guitar was transformed into something dense and intense.

The Nadja set started where Aidan's solo stuff left off when he was joined onstage by his wife Leah. The sonic waves of spacious texture continued, but got more intense with heavy distorted guitar tones, Leah's bass adding a welcome low end and when the preprogrammed industrial drums kicked it felt like the earth was being moved. The set ebbed and flowed like a tide, building up and down without an obvious break between songs, although "songs" is probably not the right way to talk about the music. There was no verse chorus verse structure, it was just one big ugly beautiful soundscape. The recorded Nadja can range from quiet dream ambient to the most crushingly heavy dirge riffs and noise. This live performance seemed to capture equal amounts of both of these elements. Its not regular music made by regular musicians, its 2 people and a bunch of gear (Picture a table centre stage full of effects pedals and sound equipment from beyond. Aidan standing front on to the Audience with his Guitar and Leah Facing away from the crowd with her Bass) creating some kind of sonic alchemy. Its soaring and beautiful and brutal all at the same time. It's a sound that so many post-whatever bands try to capture, but no one seems to come close. The sound of staring into the void.

- Co written in the first person by Chris Rigby and Rangiofthelight.
Footage of Nadja live at Whammy bar courtesy of Rangiofthelight:

An overview Merch stand Purchases

This was the one Nadja release that I was most familiar with already and was happy to finally get my own copy.  It features the most conventional 'song' like recordings I've heard so far from the band. The main reason is that it's an album of cover songs receiving the Nadja treatment.  To describe what that is is a slower than usual reenactment of each tune, played with not with what sounds like standard musical instruments, but by sounds from beyond that can only be compared with the musical equivalent of enveloping swarms of bees flying above you. Stand out tracks for me personally are 'Only Shallow' (My Bloody Valentine), 'Dead skin Mask' (Slayer) and the title tune (Ahha!). 
Worth noting also is the awesome cover and internal artwork of by Klawful, who has provided a gothic cartoon graphic for each of the songs, each featuring a caricature of Aidan and Leah.
"When I see the Sun..." was an excellent introduction to Nadja for me and I'd recommend it to others for the same reason.
Nadja - Under a Jaguar Sun (2xCD)
'Under a Jaguar Sun' has some very impressive packaging in the form of a four way in-folding box featuring different oil based paintings on each panel by Aidan.  It's made up of two disks.  Disc 1: Tezcatlipoca (Darkness) - features more obvious bass lines and riffs than some of Nadja's other work.  It's made up of 5 'Suns' namely 'Jaguar', 'winstorm', fieryrain', 'flood' and 'earthquake'. Each song is different to the last and attempts to capture the particular sun's spirit within it's own.
Disc 2: Quetzalcoatl (Wind) contains five adjoined tracks of creeping dark soundscapes reminiscent to Ligeti's contributions to the '2001: A Space Odyssey' score i.e. 'Lux aeterna' or 'Atmospheres'. Not as instantaneous as CD 1, but a hunting sound experience never the less. 'Under a Jaguar Sun' wins the Subcide award for most interesting purchase of the night.
Update: Since writing this Aidan has informed that the two disc in the set have been created to be played together simultaneously.  I'm yet to try this but hope to soon.

Aiden Baker - I will always and forever hold you in my heart and mind
There were a number of Aiden's CDs on sale that night, but as I was unfamiliar with his solo material and more focused on boosting up the Nadja content of my music collection, I chose to randomly get this one to find out what it was like.  Much like Aiden's live set, this recording is made up of building layers of  delicate effected ambient guitar tones. The result is a pleasurable relaxing melodic experience which would be most suited to a darkend room, with a candle and stick of Nag champa burning on a Sunday evening while trying to avoid contemplating the working week a head. 

Nadja - Sky Burial
This release is part  of a limited edition from the 'Latitudes' series put out and recorded by Southern Records in the UK.  It has the most impressive and original packaging of my purchases (a spiral infolding cardboard slip with hand stamped cover design), but was the recording with the least impact on me.  Not that it's bad at all. It's just that it has the sound of the  a live studio recording session (which it is) that has been done quickly and maybe not had the blood, sweat and tears ingrained that some of the other Nadja recordings have had.  There are two tracks on this recording. The first is 'Jaguar' which is made up of looped samples of noises, distant voices as well as slowly building guitar feedback/drone. The second is 'Sky burial' with more structure and rhythm by way of a pulsating building repeating loop of droning bass distortion and guitars evolving into a dreamy mid paced melodic texture. I have noticed this recording improving up one repeat listening. Sky burial is nice documentation of this studio event.

Excluding 'When I see the sun...', this was my favorite purchase of the evening.
Mastered by James Poltkin. Outstanding heavy as hell doom riffs preceded by ambient dreamscapes. I can't think of much else to say about this, except that I love it!

Nadja - Autopergamene 

This, the latest Nadja release is in the vein of 'Radiance of Shadows' (i.e heavy doom riffs preceded by ambient dreamscapes) but with the key differences being the addition of orchestral instruments by other contributing musicians i.e. violin, double bass, trombone, flute, cello and more.  Autopergamene, which is a spell or charm wherein you write in blood, on a fragment of skin, what you wish to happen, continues the theme of excellent and unique packaging and contains a selection of six folded over water based Rorschach styled prints. Some are simply coloured patterns whilst others contain sketches of ghostly figures.  In a way with song titles like 'you write your name in my skin', 'you write your name in my head' and 'you write my name in your blood', these images describe the recording perfectly.  This was a slow grower but has much to offer on repeated listening.

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