The subject of a much-anticipated forthcoming documentary by Andrew Dominik, 'Skeleton Tree' is the latest offering from much-revered Aussie dark overlord Nick Cave and his inimitable Black Seeds. Hot on the heels of 2013's critically acclaimed 'Push the Sky Away', this new work will no doubt delight Cave's many admirers. Released the day after the film, the mood of the record will no doubt touch on its themes.
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When I was young I would buy old Nick Cave albums on CD, put them on my primitive musical shelf and then never listen to them. I did this with a Converge CD too, once, as if staving off the scary music was a greater achievement than actually confronting it. I assumed Cave’s music was too dour and that maybe one day a future Robin would open and enjoy it -- but ‘til the age of twenty or so Nick Cave was more a fear than a musician. Feels silly, now that I think about it.
‘Skeleton Tree’ opens on a cresting wave of ambient pop, with whistling electronics, lilting strings and the occasional harmony supplementing an otherwise hurried and crushingly tragic spoken word treatise from Cave. It suggests the coating of pure darkness Cave’s lathered his album art with -- instead of the light, exciting excursions of ‘Dig!!!” and ‘Push the Sky Away’, he seems to return to the baroque goth music that scared me away initially. The balladic journey across the reeking swamp of ‘Your Funeral, My Trial’ comes to mind here, only it’s now informed with Cave’s newer musical interests -- the appreciation for scores he’s inherited from Warren Ellis, for instance, feels crucial to this sound.
All this to say that this feels like classic Nick Cave launched into a brave new world -- “Rings of Saturn” still has the big, cheesy piano chords, but it involves sketchy programmed beats and skating synth modes. The icy post-rock guitar that flickers quietly underneath “Magneto”, alongside the general minute abstractions, seek to soundscape Cave’s voice, which continues to mutter stories rather than emote them through actual singing. I’m not saying Cave hasn’t been into reinvention, before this, or that these tricks are confoundingly new -- but this feels like a very knowing record, one in which Cave sees himself for what he is while trying to keep his music modern. Sorry I kept you in your case all those years, Nick.
9/10 Dave Scott 4th October 2016
Christ. Talk about a tough piece of work to review. If this was about a lost love or straightforward broken relationship, then I'd happy wallow in its beautiful sounds and lament with a half decent bottle of red. But it isn't, it's about losing one of your kids. The tragedy will always overshadow this piece of work and therefore in our house we simply can't listen to it all the way through as we have twin boys, and we're far from being maudlin people who get off on the misfortune of others, but it all sounds so personal. Every time it gets to 'I need you', I have to turn it off. Cave is almost pleading,begging for anything but this to have happened. If a work of art is meant to touch us as humans, then very few other things come close to perfection as this LP. Musically akin to Boatman's Call or PTSA, there's nothing abrasive about it but it's very unsettling sonically. It's obviously very, very desolate.
A great LP but unfortunately, one I don't think I'll be playing much.
10/10 JonE 9th September 2016
Stunning. When viewed from the perspective of a man trying to come to terms with the death of his 15 yr old son it will flaw you. Listen to the opening line.
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