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May 25, 2009

This week’s review is When I See The Sun Always Shines On TV, by Toronto’s Nadja.

Nadja – When I See The Sun Always Shines On TV (The End, 2009)

This latest record from genre-blurring Toronto outfit Nadja is a collection of covers that the band says serve to delineate their roots. The selections range from fairly intuitive choices (My Bloody Valentine, Codeine, Swans), to apposite, yet reworked ones (Slayer, Elliott Smith, The Cure), to intentionally amusing ones that end up working surprisingly well (A-Ha, Kids in the Hall). Some critics have said that this could be the band’s breakout record, but one has to wonder about that. That’s not to say that it isn’t a great record, because it is, and an interesting statement by the band, but even if it does find a larger audience than their numerous other releases have, it doesn’t fully represent what they do.

This is certainly their most accessible record, but that’s because it’s just the tip of the iceberg. When you deal in lengthy, heavy guitar drone pieces most of the time, making an accessible record isn’t as difficult as it would be in some other cases. One has to wonder though, if listeners are not familiar with what Nadja do as a group, does this record lose something? The point of the whole thing, of course, is the fact that they are doing these covers, and no knowledge of their stock of twenty/thirty minute monuments of distortion might make some wonder what the big deal is. Thus, breakout record, probably not. A gateway record, as some other critics have suggested, is more plausible.

The record (and the band) itself, in a word: electricity. The guitars, as usual, are totally dripping distortion and create a huge wall of hum and buzz, nearly beyond what speakers are capable of playing back properly. The usual sparse drum machine hits thud along, remaining one of the only clearly defined elements in the mix as the tunes build into accretions of droning fuzz. What’s interesting about this record is that the band is forced further into form and brevity than ever before, and we get to hear what Nadja is like in a more standard heavy band format. The most noticeable element though, is the vocals. What vocals there are on other Nadja releases are usually buried in the mix, or processed well beyond clarity, but here Aidan Baker’s voice has to play a more central role. That doesn’t stop him from totally processing it with delay, though, and his doing so creates one of the characteristic sounds of the record: Being that the vocal delivery is hushed, all the sibilants come through loud and clear and get repeated in the long delays, creating spooky whispering sounds amidst all the crunch.

Also needing mention is the artwork. Designed by Matt Smith, it features an illustrated Nadja in a sort of fairy tale/children’s story, with great illustrations for each song. And the Kids in the Hall cover, of course, everyone wants to know about that. As far as I remember, and from what little the internet offers to refresh my memory, “Long Dark Twenties” is one of the songs that Bruce McCulloch’s Danzig-esque rock star character sings in Brain Candy. It’s been in the band’s live repertoire for some time and it works very well here.

In the end, this record is pretty much just Nadja adapting what they do to some covers, and if you like their other stuff, this is likely right up your alley. If you’ve only heard this one record, you might like some of their other stuff, you might not, it’s a bigger leap going that way. Either way, this is probably as close as we’ll ever get to a popular Nadja record. Definitely something to check out though, this is one more great release from a band that has been doing some excellent work for a few years now.

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