Review: Picastro + Nadja – Fool, Redeemer

It’s nice to hear a split release that doesn’t use the “split” aspect as an excuse to throw out any idea of musical cohesion. Fool, Redeemer, flows very neatly as a start-to-finish listening experience. According to my recent interview with Aidan Baker, this wasn’t something that was openly discussed between the artists, but there’s no denying that a common atmosphere holds the tracks firmly together: it’s very rickety and organic in nature, bringing to mind a barren field dotted with dry, spindly trees bent into eerie shapes.

I’d never heard Picastro previously, but “Skullduggery” offers a very instant and provocative introduction. The music sounds wounded and warped, like a once beautiful song that has been beaten into stuttering, broken fragments – twanging guitars send out scratchy melody in weary lurches, bending out of tune and back in again, while drums retain the minimum amount of thudding, percussive momentum required to keep the whole thing trundling awkwardly forward.

Meanwhile, “A New Soul’s Benediction” breathes a sombre love song into an empty room; vocals take a soft and reluctant centre stage, spilling out gently beside a simple guitar chord progression. Gorgeous sweeps of strings bringing about a brief stretch of outspoken beauty, but it’s not long before the track crawls back into itself again. The other two tracks here feel more akin to interludes in comparison to the aforementioned cuts that sit on either side, but they at least paint further detail in the desolate soundscape provoked in the two “main” tracks.

The transition into Nadja territory is rather gradual, bridged by the slow acoustic strums that lead the way for the opening five minutes. By the 10-minute mark, “Venom” is swamped by the screeches and buzzes of Nadja’s trademark metallic feedback. The initial melody (a beautiful one at that) is swallowed by the guttural noise black hole, resurging as a climactic doom-pace groove of drum machine and distortion, while Aidan’s vocals murmur gently from beneath. This is a very strong Nadja cut, and while it doesn’t break away from any of the band’s synonymous traits, it pushes them to their most powerful extremes.

One interesting aspect of the split is that each artist contributed to the tracks of the other, and while this has only really taken the form of slight texture embellishments – Aidan’s flute on the Picastro pieces, Brandon’s drums and Liz’s guitar on the Nadja composition – it once again strengthens Fool, Redeemer as a cohesive release. This isn’t just a bunch of tracks that coincidentally work nicely alongside eachother – Nadja and Picastro have merged and interweaved, and somehow manage to smooth out their artistic seams without ever a whiff of compromise.