Nadja: Under the Jaguar Sun

[2 November 2010]

By Jason Cook

Nadja, equal parts Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff, is a duo whose music is no stranger to what’s being called “post-metal” these days. The music is hip, one-upping previously hip bands like This Will Destroy You, Sigur Ros, and Explosions in the Sky with an ISIS-led scene of slow-churning, distortion-drugged metalheads whose primary purpose, I think, is to fall disagreeably asleep. Japanese rock band Boris, Cobain-favorites Earth, and the aforementioned ISIS have all played some part in this scene. While black metal has recently pervaded US shores with its weepy blast beats, we find Nadja, both drone-built and blackened, somewhere ahead of the underground, delivering with strong regularity since 2003 the various shoegaze-metal hybrid soundscape that today’s bookish, horn-rimmed headbangers need. Or something like that.

Under the Jaguar Sun is an interesting album. Double-album, I should say. It’s title, I presume, comes from Nobel Prize contender Italo Calvino’s respectively titled short story collection—a three-story book translated to English in 1988. Calvino had intended the stories in his collection to befit the five senses, and wished them to be collected in a book entitled so. But he died before writing pieces about vision and touch. What Nadja intends for its album, in relation to Calvino’s stories, or the titular story in the collection, is somewhat unclear.

The album itself is packaged quite interestingly with its ten-panel sleeve of scanned, primary-color-on-black mixed media designs. The case unfolds to the two discs with its title, lyrics, and credits—all the fodder for a book of liner notes—printed on the unfolded crucifer packaging. The two discs, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, or Darkness and Wind, respectively, are intended by Beta-lactam Ring Records to be played either sequentially or simultaneously.

What, you say? Simultaneously? Sounds like a gimmick!

Well, it sort of is. I don’t have two CD players that I can use to sync up and play the album. I’m also not a DJ. To gather the same effect, I ripped the songs and melded them using a wave editor, compensating somewhat for combined volume. Was it interesting? I suppose. It certainly wasn’t worth the effort. Both discs are interesting enough on their own. Tezcatlipoca relies heavily on Nadja’s doom-dirge sound, sometimes closely resembling Earth’s Hex. Quetzacoatl keeps more to an airy drone palette, sometimes seeming too uninvolved with itself to engage the listener. When coupled, one gets the best of both worlds, darkness and wind, et cetera. I would have been happier with both albums conjoined from the start, properly mixed down and arranged. At times, the first disc is unbearably slow; yet, at other presumably contrasting times, the second disc plods too listlessly.

Nadja are talented and an asset to what post-metal will someday become. Under the Jaguar Sun is, yes, experimental in an already experimental genre. Here’s to hoping they pull a Radiohead and emerge jazzily, victoriously; sounding less like a two-hour Aztec sacrifice and more like Agalloch meets Orthodox, while keeping close that stylish, Canadian Aidan Baker dark flair.

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