If you want to be a Nadja completist, you’ll not only have to have a deep appreciation for the kind of ambient drone/shoegaze music that makes vinyl geeks drool uncontrollably, but also a willingness to go through the effort (not to mention the cash) to keep up with the Toronto duo’s extremely prolific work ethic. Guitarist Aidan Baker and bassist Leah Buckareff might have been putting out music since only 2003, but over the last six years they’ve amassed a discography as staggering as that of a veteran artist who’s been around for four decades. In fact, so crazed has their recording output become that 2008 yielded more than 20 different releases, ranging from full-length albums, seven-inch singles, EPs, remixes, and split CDs. With such incredible productivity, though, comes the notion among some listeners that Nadja’s willingness to release seemingly everything they record lessens the impact of the band’s better efforts. And indeed, it can be a trying experience to go through the effort of separating the wheat from the chaff, especially for those new to Nadja’s oeuvre.
Dig deep into the catalog, though, and you’ll unearth some beauts. For instance, the 2007 full-length Touched was a revelation, the re-recordings of early CDRs Skin Turns to Glass and Bliss Torn from Emptiness were as sublime as they were riddled with gloom, while the 2008 album Desire in Uneasiness turned out to be arguably Nadja’s finest, most consistent effort, Baker and Buckareff employing the services of a live drummer for the first time, briefly eschewing the drum machine they often prefer to use. However, for those still a little wary of the band’s slow-burning, often meandering collisions of distortion, discordance, and melody, the best place to ease themselves into the dreamy, foggy world of Nadja might actually be their new collection of covers, which turns out to be a lot better than one would expect.
Covers albums are always dicey, unpredictable affairs, and a very overdone gimmick in the metal world, but what makes Nadja’s When I See the Sun Always Shines on TV work so well is that the eight tracks they choose to cover force Baker and Buckareff to actually focus. Working within the constraints of a pop song, as opposed to the almost free-form style they normally employ, works wonders at times on this record, and the new collection’s high points turn out to be some of their best, most powerful work to date.
One band Nadja has continually tried to evoke on its recordings is the legendary underground band Swans, and their rendition of “No Cure for the Lonely”, from 1992’s Love of Life, transforms Michael Gira’s darkly pretty acoustic ballad into a gorgeous slowcore dirge, Baker and Buckareff taking Gira’s wistful acoustic guitar riff, slowing it down considerably, and adding heaps of melodrama. In direct contrast is the cover of Slayer’s 1990 classic “Dead Skin Mask”, which is expanded into a ten-minute doom metal epic, the morass of guitar and bass sounding like it came from the damaged acetate that contained Black Sabbath’s sludgy minor masterpiece Born Again. Baker’s hypnotic, detached vocal delivery effectively conveys the demented inner dialogue of serial killer Ed Gein. The title track from the Cure’s landmark 1981 album Faith is a perfect fit for the Nadja treatment, but the real keeper on this album is the stunning cover of a-ha’s ‘80s pop gem “The Sun Always Shines on TV”, the synths of the original replaced by massive, crunching riffs, with the tender melody of the chorus achieving an aching majesty when juxtaposed with those layers of guitars.
If this album has a fault, it’s that the rather straightforward cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “Only Shallow” is too predictable. Everyone knows that there would be no Nadja without the towering work of the great Kevin Shields, and not only is the choice of song an obvious one, but Baker and Buckareff don’t exactly bring anything new to the table, instead doing a safe run-through of the track. Aside from that, though, this is an immensely satisfying little collection, as good a gateway drug into Nadja’s vast sonic world as you’ll find. Just be prepared to keep up once those new releases start churning out once again.
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// Notes from the Road
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