Heavy experimentalists Nadja turn from shoegazing to stargazing on Luminious Rot | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Heavy experimentalists Nadja turn from shoegazing to stargazing on Luminious Rot


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Experimental drone and postmetal outfit Nadja got their start in 2003 as the solo studio project of ambient musician Aidan Baker, but by 2005 he’d enlisted the help of bassist and vocalist Leah Buckareff to bring his music to the stage. They’re a married couple as well as bandmates, and they’ve since relocated from their native Canada to Berlin. Over the years they’ve amassed more than 50 releases, issuing many on their Broken Spine imprint. There’s no telling what blend of shoegaze, dark ambient, metal, and other textures each record might contain—2018’s Sonnborner is infused with noise and death metal alongside its strings and sun-kissed atmospheres—but each is a reliably welcome emotional journey through a sonic fog that’s lush and rich enough to cut with a knife. The title of Nadja’s latest album, Luminous Rot, might sound like they’re describing the spectrum of beauty and brutality in their own music, but its themes of first contact and communication with extraterrestrial life show that their gaze is focused outward and upward, not on the mirror. Recorded by the band at their home studio-slash-rehearsal space and mixed by postpunk luminary David Pajo, Luminous Rot is partially inspired by the writings of science fiction writers and theorists such as Stanislaw Lem, Liu Cixin, and Margaret Wertheim. That heady subject matter lends a sense of exploration and awe to the record’s most meteoric sounds, no matter how light or dark they get. A brilliantly hued instrumental introduction launches the title track, which drops a fuzzy riff that bears a resemblance to Nirvana’s “Negative Creep”—that is, before industrial funk washes over the tune and creeping vocals rear their heads. The heart-wrenching centerpiece of the album, “Cuts on Your Hands,” builds a slow, deliberate groove, and then its radar screen picks up noisy flourishes and hazy feedback, swirling distantly overhead. Nadja aren’t a band to stay in any one mood for long, though, and on “Dark Inclusions” they dive into a haunting metallic throb topped with layers of Baker’s soft, hallucinogenic vocals and undergirded by a diabolical, bass-heavy stomp, then explode into a droning, cacophonous finale. Now that we’re slowly finding our ways into a “new normal,” once-familiar routines can feel alien, and reuniting with family and friends after more than a year of involuntary separation can feel like a first encounter—so despite its intergalactic ambitions, Luminous Rot feels fit for this moment here on Earth.   v

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