Something quite cool came out from the Bandcamp Weekly radio station.
Her name is Neneh Cherry and her album is called Broken Politics.
Her single “Kong” hooked me for opposite reasons of the usual ones by which the people get hooked by.
There is no single track in the song that flows a bunch of notes in a constant way, just a bunch of tokens that together build the atmosphere. And the refrain is built up in the opposite way a refrain is usually built, leaving fewer elements possible instead of punching harder. But let’s deal with it in a more progressive way, let’s talk about the artist and then about the album.
N.C. is a brand new discovery for me, but maybe some people already heard her name. Digging deep inside her discography before writing this article, I realized how this person evolved throughout the years. Her first album (Raw Like Sushi, 1989) finds his roots at the end of the eighties, taking everything that has become typical of that age: Disco, synths and much, much funk, all blended by a rap’n’soul attitude. Then the nineties evolution, adding rock elements and more modern production. Finally, after some years of collaboration, external projects and her Blank Project that almost touched drum n bass territories, she comes back in 2018 presenting Broken Politics. Neneh is pretty clear about the purpose of her work: blending personal experience and political and issues.
The great question here is: “How do we conduct ourselves in extraordinary times?”
N.C. plays a role of interconnection between personal life and political issues, and if you think about it, both sides are strictly interconnected nowadays. Let’s find out every single track.
Fallen leaves opens the album with silky melodies, everything simple, from the constant panned snare to the drawing lines of the keyboard. The song invites the listener to not step over the ones who let things get over them, being fragile doesn’t mean being stepped aside, some people let the leaves fall all over them and it’s not a mistake but a way to survive.
The refrain of Kong is like entering an opening place after having passed through a narrow street, it’s so spacey just by leaving sonic elements behind. All the song is based on lo-fi bass and percussions, atmospheric noise added by the typical sound of a turntable head and a few-notes piano line. The only thing that helps the progression is the strings’ part, as a bridge towards the refrain. Lyrics tell us to be brave. Like an answer to Fallen Leaves, Kong asks to take risks to survive the hole that history leaves in our hearts. Kong is the first single extracted by the album and the video clip has been directed by Jenn Nkiru, the same who directed Hub-tones by Kamasi Washington, her style identifiable by the vivid slow sequences.
Poem Daddy is another, really short song that emboldens you to fight for what it’s worth to fight. What is appreciable of this short poem is the strong contrast between the incitement and the music underneath, a sweet harp proclaiming “to die for a noble cause than to live and die asleep”
Synchronised Devotion is the song that gives the album its name, taken from a verse. This melancholic track, almost a lullaby, incites to not live in the nostalgia but to make now what was back then. The turntable head comes back together with piano, xylophone, and glasses, making rhythm and melodies in tune with the tender voice of Neneh; that, by the way, in the song says to be a Pisces, born March tenth, like me.
Trip Hop atmosphere hits strong in Deep Vein Thrombosis, blending voice, minimal piano pad, lo-fi and tribal percussions. What you got in life is very little, as the elements of the song; you can take what you got in your hand, and then, funny, you die, leaving this world, the song ends. The song is an anthem both to life and the loss of it, and we strive like lambs dressed in wolf clothes.
Faster Than The Truth is the best example of great effect tied to minimalism. After a little instrumental intro, when the verse comes in, just the drums stay and Neneh’s voice, almost a bastard son between blues and rap, lets the game going on. The instruments come back on the refrain, where the voice draws a flawless melody, going from the tonic to the sixth minor and back, nothing else.
Even more basic blues in Natural Skin Deep, in which there’s nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. The song structure is all in the stop and go parts between verses, only a moody, jazzy interlude somewhere in the middle.
In Shot Gun Shack the claim against the usage of weapons that automatically lead to violence and fear of living with your back to the wall is made in the most peaceful way, with a really calm song. Bass and a tuned percussion keep the harmonic path on which the lyrics ride by, and there’s a cool key change of a whole step that pushes the song forward, knowing that if you pick a gun, you’re gonna use it.
“Another black monday came to stab me up
We stood up, I stand up
Empty promised land, we dressed it up
A womaner, we messed it up”
Black Monday is the coming back of lullaby melodies, cascades from the third minor to the fifth at the octave below, the voice putting that missing note during the instrumental descending lines, that moody sixth minor.
Cheap Breakfast Special is the last break before the final songs. An ambient recording (maybe a real breakfast) mixed to a sweet piano pad: some way we feel home.
Slow Release is that kind of song that arranged in a different way could sound extremely massive and ground-shaking, but Neneh chooses to keep it extremely quiet, making it powerful in a more personal way. Ostinato flutes disguise us, a chord based on the seventh minor degree of the scale potentially leads the listener to every way possible until the refrain, the slow release, where the voice guides toward the tonic, a solid minor tonality.
Then there’s the end, Soldier, that closes the album with hope in love:
If you love me every thought
I would never doubt.
“How do we conduct ourselves in extraordinary times?”
The general impression seems to be an album that describes moody atmospheres, doubts about what’s going around, solitude, but we’re not alone: we are all here sharing the same pains, but also the same joys. Musically speaking, it’s like exploring a minor tonality and finding out it’s a little bit major.
Neneh has released the album of a grown artist that looks back and keep everything that has become personal and intimate to push it forward. Broken politics is an album of maturity, making great kings using very simple elements. I can’t believe the spicy girl on the cover of Raw Like Sushi has become so stylistically unique, but it happened some way. Neneh, teach us all how to write great popular music.
Written for you by Music Pills
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