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First impressions: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

26/02/2013

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I’m not a Nick Cave expert; I only got into the man’s amazing works last year and so far I’ve managed to obtain only a small portion of the man’s vast amounts of music with a passing idea of the rest. With that incredibly limited knowledge in mind, I’m going to say that Push the Sky Away is probably the furthest the man and his band have ever strayed from sounding like Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.

This is probably the result of the fact that for the first time in, well, ever Cave is in the position of not only having a non-guitarist co-conspirator, but his band lacks a guitar presence in general. Cave’s music has always been heavily influenced by the other members of his band and in particular two people: the guitar maestro Blixa Bargeld and, after he left the band, the multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis who tends to be far more interested in any other instrument except guitar. Founding member Mick Harvey kept the guitar presence up after Bargeld left but when Harvey too decided to leave before the new album, Cave has ended up plotting with Ellis far more than he has in the past. Push the Sky Away reflects the shift in balance – Ellis’ main role in The Bad Seeds has been the creation of sonic textures with his army of instruments and shredder-violin rather than traditional band sounds, and Push the Sky Away is all about atmosphere and texture. Cave murmurs stream-of-consciousness lyrics over minimal backings and is more keen on crafting mood around the lyrics rather than clear structures or melodies. The role of the guitar and even Cave’s traditional piano playing have been minimised, replaced by minimal and repetitive bass drones, loops of various kinds and different synthesizer and keyboard patterns. It’s not quite Cave-goes-electronic, but it sounds like someone has deconstructed Cave’s traditional sound and then put it back together in their own accord.

Amidsts the erratic drums, lowly rumbling bass and various assortments of sounds crawls a typically Cave-esque slow-grower. Each song is a piece of the puzzle that waits for its turn to click and find a place, some sooner than others. There is very little you can say about the songs on Push the Sky Away that applies to all them – some feel like they could use a little more restraint, others feel like they’re taking themselves too calmly (I’m looking at you “Higgs Boson Blues”, you marvel of furious Caveism that feels like it’s still a puppy), some feel perfect just the way they are but still do not make a fuss about themselves. Push the Sky Away is an enchanting, good experience to go through, but not one that offers the most memorable run of tracks. The focus is in the mood the songs they create, not the actual songcraft. It’s somewhat emphasised by Cave’s chosen lyrical style which moves away from his usual poetic storytelling and coherent texts: the abstract, internet-inspired stream-of-consciousness are much like the songs, not offering much to directly hold on to but driving onward simply with the mood they try to project.

Still, at regular intervals the album presents an instantly affecting gem that draws you further in and gives the urge to explore the rest. The frail, minimalist beauty of “We No Who U R” is a gentle introduction to the rest of the album and feels as charming as it did when it first appeared. The more traditionally Cave-esque “Jubilee Street” gradually builds into a gorgeous finale of guitars and strings and is the only moment on the album that truly soars. The title track at the end of the album buries the listener in a swirl of ominous synthesizer organs and hits the same “manic preacher of the apocalypse” vibes Cave projects at his best – it’s eery, haunting and positively chilling. Scattered evenly across the album, they’re the beacons that attract the listener to dig deeper into the album. If the rest of the album never grows from its current position, they’re the songs that make it all worthwhile.

While I have to reiterate once again that I’m far from a Bad Seeds expert, the most striking thing about Push the Sky Away is that it does not feel like a Nick Cave album. In fact, it’s even further than that and extends to the rest of The Bad Seeds rather than just Cave himself: it’s the first Nick Cave album where the “Bad Seeds” in the title feels almost superfluous. While the band have gone through many people and many methods of expression during their decades of work and Cave has always been the lead star, they’ve always had a notable presence that makes it known their place in the title is not just politeness. Push the Sky Away does away with certain specific feel that runs through the band’s whole career as the line that connects all the albums together, or at least has obfuscates it enough to not make it obvious that it’s there, and similarly strips away the band element; it’s Nick & Ellis show here instead. This has introduced a lot of bold, new elements to the music that make the album feel special and enchanting, but similarly it strips away a lot of things that could have possibly benefited these songs. The result is a very, very curious album.

One to return to later in this blog’s lifetime. For now, a cautious recommendation.


We No Who U R

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