Review: Nathalie Stern – Nerves And Skin

CRUEL NATURE.

Each of these songs is a glimpse of eternity. Their incarnation on Nerves And Skin lasts only a few minutes apiece, but their recurrent elements – cyclical harmonies, synthesiser loops – could continue forever, bearing witness to the flux of the landscape around them over the course of months and years, never succumbing to the pull of decay. The record reads like a compilation of immutable and immaterial truths, summoned fleetingly into corporeal life before being released back into the dark. Given Stern’s connection to folk music (beautifully evident in her layered vocal refrains, which form a crescent around the melody like faces in firelight), it’s logical that the execution of these songs should brim with a sense of both heritage and possibility. Yet resting within this edgeless terrain is the mental image of Nathalie’s thoroughly finite home studio: an imagined haven of hardware synths and laptop glow. It’s both a panoramic earthen sprawl and the gestures of a solitary body; each song reaches either into the stratosphere or stops at arm’s length, depending on how you look at it.

The body also looms large within the instrument choices. Most obviously it manifests in the sounds of the body itself: the hissing breaths that punctuate the mantric return of “Luchadora”, or the wilting choral overdubs on “Interlude”, and to a certain extent within the exquisite brass section that flowers unexpectedly in the latter half of “Because Science”. But it’s also there in the rudimentary buzz of Stern’s electronics. Save for those murky gusts of drone that swirl through tracks like “Deep Sleep” and “Then You Talk Of War”, the tones are largely stripped back to a raw palette of unaffected signals and surface fizz. These textures are the very depiction of electronics as a modern extension of the body, prior to their lifting into the cerebral abstraction of excessive FX and EQ; the melody on “Here To Stay And Here To Belong” throbs as though responding to Stern’s index finger pulse, with the motif kept simple enough to flow intuitively through the simple twitches of the wrists and hands. More than anything this melodic minimalism only abets the album’s inevitable reprisal by future generations in the decades and centuries ahead, when the time comes to materialise Stern’s immutable truths once more.