Oaken Palace is a different kind of a label, as for a start it’s a charity, and all profits from each of its vinyl-only releases go to an environmental cause of the artist’s choice. Since Nadja have decided to support Whale and Dolphin Conservation with their album, it only seems right and proper that the LP should be titled Flipper.“Drown” is a melancholic reflection, entering at a slower than Low pace, Leah Buckareff‘s bass plumbing suitable depths while Aidan Baker‘s hushed words are softly, semi-distinctly intoned in multiple layers of mourning for – or from? – a watery grave, one which blossoms into minor-key flowering as the guest strings of Peter Broderick‘s violin and Angela Chan‘s viola join a cleansing wash of fuzz guitar. The mood continues into “Song For The Sea,” with similarly hushed words and a tautly-controlled hold and release of tensions, soon flooding into a restrained swell of mellifluous chords, fragile scrapes and delicate pizzicato.
There’s a tender jazzy undertow to “Wrapped in Plastic,” surely one of the most gentle meditations Nadja have recorded in a while, though as ever the ascent into voluminous mass is soon all-encompassing, joined by the strings’ Velvetsy drone and scrawl to end in a characteristic plateau and fade to the almost literally breathtaking “Hands.” By now, the low end has become almost physically present, shifting cavernous units of air away from the speaker cones and thrumming upwards via nearby vibrating objects while patient cymbals tap time, the whole making for a soothingly minimal conclusion.
Caudal‘s album in the series (and also their first, as it happens) makes cause for the Austrian Union for Nature Preservation, helping protect the European ground squirrel. The band consist of Aidan Baker from Nadja alongside Gareth Sweeney of Gout on bass guitar and Felipe Salazar of Muerte En Pereira at the drumkit. Their playing together on opener “River’s Edge” is a loose instrumental flow, unwinding on the languorously present bass and swelling drums as Baker’s guitar accretes in multiple layers, some so processed as to sound like synth accompaniment. Hypnosis on the rising and falling tides the trio generate is the order of the day for “Threever,” though here the tempo shifts up a gear into post-motorik mode, the bass throbbing with the sound of New York No Wave traffic pulsations as much as it does to the autobahn’s sharply-defined, no-limits groove.The blissful mood of dynamics in ever-wondrous motion continues into the inevitable splash of cymbals which heralds a sublime conclusion. “Walrus Tusk Scrimshaw” pedals back, bass and drums loping to their own heartbeats while the guitar circles at the verge of seeming to be about to really get it on; and when the fuzzily-scarred melody sheets across inevitably in the manner of a long-visible rain front approaching from the far distance, the rhythmic undertow stepps up the apparent pace while brittle FX shards rattle like sheet lightning across the sky. By the conclusion, Baker, Sweeney and Salazar have thoroughly got their collective mojo working, and the dissolve into feedback heralds the title track’s thirteen minutes of shimmeringly omnipresent atmospherics and muscular bass and drum action. By the end, “Forever In Another World” has successfully spread across the spectrum into every aural nook and cranny in a warm dive into the centre of an ever-spiralling psylocybin cloud.
There’s a lot of excellent guitar-bass-drum instrumental trios out there; it’s a classic format that never seems to tire of rejuvenation, and Caudal make an excellent addition to the form, their début leaving no doubt that they’re one to watch.
Aidan Baker also turns up as half of Adoran, with Dorian Williamson of Northumbria and Holoscene on bass. This time, Baker takes the drummer’s seat, and pounds out the doomy rhythms with an intensity which easily matches that of his guitar playing.There are just two tracks, each around half an hour long. “Careful with that Death Machine” weighs in ponderously, drums cycling gradually into a heavyweight full-doom clatter while the bass sounds Williamson generates are positively monstrous. There’s really not much point listening to this album quietly either, so now is a good time to turn up the volume and set the bass tone to the maximum the speakers will take, because Adoran are by this point becoming down and dirty punishing – and it’s less than ten minutes in. The pointer that this record has been mastered by James Plotkin should give a clue as to just how precise the sound of heaviness can be – and with that, Adoran pedal back and slide into somewhere more abstract, the amplifier(s?) humming as the kit splatters across the stereo picture. “The Aviator” breathes from a different mixture, the omnipresent crackle during the opening preamble hissing like there’s something happenning to the air pressure; and as the bass reverberates into action, the sensation that a crushing is coming becomes similarly claustrophobic. Instead of achieving that state through sheer volume alone, Adoran now take their time in piling on the tonnes, the shuddering taking place in a slower timeframe and at a more gradual pace which only acts to increase the sense of dread. When release does finally come, it almost explodes out of its restraints with a ragged ferocity, before being heaved back and let rip once again in waves of relentless, beautiful noise.
It’s their ability to turn the dynamics on a proverbial sixpence (even if the coin in question might sometimes be a metaphorical metre or two wide) which keeps what Adoran are doing at the forefront of the listener’s attention; and with this music, it’s not really worth having it as background – it demands immersion, or nothing at all. While the live stage is always going to be the best place to experience this kind of sound – apart from anything else, the volume levels possible are so much weightier – it’s still a profoundly large experience on record.