Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Skeleton Tree

Written by: MIN on 18/12/2016 17:34:57

2016 has been many things, but a topic lying heavily above all the rest is that of death. Both David Bowie and Leonard Cohen released swan songs just before their sudden deaths, and we even lost Glenn Frey and Prince in-between, not to mention the several other notable musicians who left. If you open up any music magazine or webzine during this month, the last one of the year, you’ll have hordes of journalists and critics telling you about it. But to Nick Cave, 2016 is just the aftermath. In 2015 he lost one of his sons and had his world shattered into a million pieces. A year later, the music that pours out of his grief is nothing short of haunting, and although the Caveman has always had a knack for telling stories, you’ve never heard him like this before.

When putting on Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s new album “Skeleton Tree”, it’s like being transported to a place of both weightlessness and shadows. At once you feel ethereal, but also instantly weighed down by an unfathomable cloak of darkness. The eerie, ambient tones of “Jesus Alone” commence and pull you forward through the black void as Nick Cave starts preaching about dread and death. Warren Ellis and the rest of the Bad Seeds are the gloomy atmosphere that sets the table, Cave himself is the depressing realism that feeds you life’s infinite sadness.

The Bad Seeds have been making music with Nick Cave for many years by now, and especially Cave’s collaborations with Warren Ellis pay off on “Skeleton Tree”. The band creates several different yet coherent sonic collages that all have a pretty similar feeling throughout, but without becoming monotonous. Whether it’s the frenetic, jazzy drum-repetitions of the post-apocalyptic “Anthrocene” or the somber piano and keyboards of “Girl in Amber”, the music is always perfectly executed and uniquely interesting. But perhaps most important of all, the music allows Nick Cave to express himself in any way he wants to. When listening to the album, you quickly get the feeling that not all is calculated. Although many songs were written prior to his son’s death, Cave took out several passages and made them up as they were recorded, giving his voice and words an independency rarely heard in this type of music. The music delivers the canvas, Nick Cave paints it.

This feat works especially well on “Rings of Saturn”, quite possibly the album’s best song and one of Cave’s crowning achievements. The song is pushed forward by electronic loops, pianos and “whoa-ohs” in the back while he pours his heart out through his microphone in some of the best lyrics you’ll lend your ears to all year:

Her body, moon blue, was a jellyfish // And I'm breathing deep and I'm there and I'm also not there // And spurting ink over the sheets but she remains, completely unexplained // Or maybe I'm just too tongue-tied to drink it up and swallow back the pain // I thought slavery had been abolished // How come it's gone and reared its ugly head again?

The loss that Nick Cave has suffered is rarely addressed directly on any of the songs, yet it’s constantly there, lurking in the dark. Every time he either is or isn’t scratching the surface, the music and the soundscape tells the story instead. When he sings about love, about the earth or about any of the other subjects he touches on the record, his quivering but powerful voice reflects his despair. “I Need You” sees Cave reminisce a lost love, a failed relationship, but during the song’s climax, as his trembling voice keeps repeating ”Cause nothing really matters [...] I need you” over the sound of background harmonies filling the ambient soundscape, you can almost see him falling apart. The urgency and intensity he portrays is unlike anything you’re likely to hear on any other record. Once it stops, you’re almost too afraid to hear it again.

“Skeleton Tree” finishes off with its surprisingly uplifting title-track. The airy feeling it provides and Nick Cave finally singing ”And it’s alright… now” is at the same time both haunting and relieving. It is as if he’s finally come to terms with what’s happened, although it’s something that he can never accept. All he can do is keep his head up. And hope. Most of all, “Skeleton Tree” is the sound of hope.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have made nothing less than a masterpiece. 2013’s ”Push the Sky Away” was a breathtaking album that saw the band make one of the best albums of their career, and with “Skeleton Tree” Nick Cave proves that he’s at the top of his game, however horrible the circumstances. The album is created through grief and frustration, and harnessing all those emotions into an LP can’t have been an easy task. I’m not going to claim that the events surrounding the album didn’t make an impression on me, because that wouldn’t be true. But the fact that you can feel it throughout the entire thing is what makes it such a remarkable listen. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to the album by now, but every time I do, it’s just as amazing.


Download: Rings of Saturn, Girl in Amber, I Need You, Skeleton Tree
For The Fans Of: Tom Waits, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen

Release date 09.09.2016
Bad Seed Ltd.

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