Gnäw – I (Album review and exclusive stream)

Posted: 9 June 2021 in Albums
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Cruel Nature Records – 4th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Cruel Nature’s programme of releasing difficult, niche music on cassette tom a discerning audience continues with this Finnish-Iranian collaboration of droney, dark ambience with lots of echoes and ominous, subterranean beats that resonate with dark overtones of damp caves and tunnels. The coming together of different cultural backgrounds lies very much as the heart of this release, and those contrasting elements are celebrated in their coming together. I say celebrated because while this is by no means an uplifting album. Indeed, the five compositions are often darkly sombre or otherwise menacing and unsettling. There is a sense that this release – details of which are sketchy, particularly about those behind it – is hinged upon these differences, which almost suggest it shouldn’t work, and that it only does so by virtue of grim determination and a certain musical ear.

It’s difficult to make a fully-informed critique of works that bring together music from diverse cultural backgrounds without appearing as some Jools Hollandy ‘world music’ wanker, but I’d like to think that delving into more nuanced and less populist works means I have some handle on differentiating a release such as this from one like, say, Paul Simon’s Gracelands. The simple and key differentiating feature is that Gnäw pull on myriad influences from across the sonic and geographical range without patronising their sources.

The percussion becomes more prominent as the album progresses, and on ‘گمگشته چوپان’ frenetic hand-drumming dominates the murky drones that hover and hang with a heavy air. Esoteric string instruments are plucked, quaveringly, the notes echoing outwards.

The tension builds and the tone of the drones shift, darker and denser, taking a further turn for the more monotonous and more oppressive on حل’اج’m which makes a sudden shift in the final couple of minutes, tapering down to a mellow, noodling, doodling mellowness that feels like a release, a moment of much-needed relaxation.

Closer ‘Marras’, the album’s longest track, meanders and trembles tremulously, leading the listener on a difficult and at times addling route along a journey with a questionable destination. But who cares where we’re going with an album like this? It’s all about the ride, and I is a weird and wonderful mystery tour.

Video by Jase Kester

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