September 14, 2016

TEST SPIN: Nick Cave — Skeleton Tree

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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, a “post-punk super group,” plays the kind of music that makes you want to be a roadie, a groupie, a super fan. They sound like an older, alternative Adele: refreshingly soulful.  Skeleton Tree, their new album released on September 9, carries the weight of a universal conscience.

Nick Cave patches together old lyrics in a new way that resonates in your ear drums, makes its way into your cerebrum and sends a cascade of interneurons down toward your heart.  Skeleton Tree is irresistible from its first echoing electric chord.  Cave sings, “with my voice/ I am calling you.” I’m captivated and Cave knows it.  His first track calls in his listeners from every end of the Earth, as he pulls from his deep, otherworldly voice.  The vocals transition within the first track from complacent speaking to deep pleading.  And, quickly, Cave’s listeners blindly follow. The cyclical echoing behind Cave’s voice swings from a conscious outer layer to a deeply deprived inner membrane unfulfilled by pop’s predictable linearity.  The lead singer’s last name captures the tone of his music.  Cave’s words and his band’s chords seem to bounce off the walls of some unvisited cavern and come back out at the hesitant listener, begging them to enter.  The first track hypnotizes Cave’s audience.

The second track wakes you back up to “exactly where [you’re] born to be.”  Song two feels right.  It perfectly answers the ambiguity set forth in track one.  Cave hits every note with a natural combination of passion and distance like remembering a sad story that doesn’t quite hold the same hurt anymore.  It’s the sound of a break up that no longer pulls on your heartstrings.  It’s satisfying and relieving and understanding.

Together, eight tracks culminate on Skeleton Tree to tell a story of time.  After bringing you in and showing you where you’re meant to be, “Girl in Amber,” paints a vision of what happened between now and then.  Between track one and track two, the tone changes drastically.  In “Jesus Alone,” Nick Cave acts as God and beckons all types of people to come into his world and hear his philosophy.  In “Rings of Saturn,”  he sings along with a more lively melody that needs not compel you to listen but that simply compliments a listener’s conscious mood and attitude.  The third track molds together the two ends of Cave’s spectrum and explains the inner ground, the space between, the means by which the music moves you.  Cave says it and it’s fact: “Some go and some stay behind/ Some never move at all.”  “Girl in Amber” combines elements from both the first two tracks.  It describes the ache between the hurt and the forgiveness.  It drips with a feeling of desperation and echoes the most formative moments of our lives.  “Girl in Amber” is the reason why Cave can play “Rings of Saturn” with a blissful detachment.  “Girl in Amber” is the process.  “Girl in Amber” is the grit.  “Girl in Amber” is the not giving up.  The next five songs soulfully elaborate on this middle ground.

Despite the obscurity in Cave’s subject matter, his words make sense to any unknowing listener’s ears because he sings them, or often speaks them, with an emotional sonorousness.  Like the wailing of an animal, Cave’s album resonates with audiences because it touches a natural nerve.  He enters our subconscious in his first song and plays along our human sympathy as the track list progresses.  It plays out as a negotiation with pain.  Track one is the unknowing mistake — the trigger.  Track two is the moving on.  Every track that follows is the struggling through.  Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds prove in Skeleton Trees that most of life is this unsettled confrontation of fate — the not quite right, the making do, the carrying on.  There’s the hurt — song one — there’s the restoration — song two — and there’s the healing.

Nick Cave stands out to me like the opposite of every singer to come on American Idol.  He shows off his talents without moving from harmony to screeching scream just to prove the range of his abilities.  Cave bests them all by barely singing.  He speaks like modernity’s omniscient narrator.  He proves the power in prose.  His album speaks to human suffering throughout the seasons.  The music moves listeners through its resonant sounds and powerful words rather than calculated transitions from falsetto to shout.  Nick Cave ingeniously shows how people move into suffering and somehow emerge on the other side.  Like the student’s that walk  through Ithaca’s foliage in the fall, our nature undergoes a cycle.  The skeleton tree recovers in the spring, flourishes in the fall and then circles back to nakedness in winter.  Our minds and bodies echo these transitions.  Cave’s combination of lyrics and instruments reverberates off human ears toward our inner-workings.  Skeleton Tree, as an album, sounds like the days of our lives through an expansive lens.  It captures the circling back and fourth, the angst, the forgiveness and the carrying on.

Julia Curley is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].