BIG|BRAVE – nature morte

Posted: 13 February 2023 in Albums
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Thrill Jockey – 24th February 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

Some albums are so, so hard to review, because listening to them leaves you with no words. They stop you in your tracks and you sit, open-mouthed, speechless – thoughtless, incoherent. Blank. It’s not often this happens to me – unless it’s when presented with an album by BIG|BRAVE.

The Canadian trio made a huge impact with Vital, just under two years ago. They’ve been making waves since their 2014 debut, Feral Verdue, but hit a new seismic peak with this shuddering blast of minimalist rock. I’m used to knocking out a review in an evening, but that one took me an absolute age, because I simply ran out of words.

With nature morte, they’ve done it again. The title, in translation, is not dead nature, but instead refers to still life, or an image depicting inanimate objects. It seems fitting, not because it lacks movement, but instead because the spacious playing, slow and deliberate, creates moments where time stands still, frozen, suspended, and I find myself likewise frozen, my breath caught.

The formula may not be radically different from Vital, but the tone most definitely is. The dense, jarring music – and it’s music in the most minimal sense, shuddering chords crashing in, juddering and halting, simultaneous with pulverising percussion and it’s stark and harsh and heavy and suffocating, reminiscent of Greed-era Swans, and its exemplified nowhere more clearly than on the seven-minute opener ‘carvers, farrriers and knaves’. But then it builds into a truly monumental climax a mere three minutes in, and it’s clear that for all of their building tension, nature morte is an album of truly tempestuous release, and this is nowhere more apparent than in Robin Wattie’s vocal delivery. Here, her desperate, often plaintive, lost voice sounds more desperate, more trapped, more anxietised than ever. We’re accustomed to her sounding scared and but ethereal. Here, she sounds like she’s being buried alive and desperate to be heard and to escape before she suffocates under the weight of the music.

Of the six tracks, three extend well beyond nine minutes: epic is indeed the word, but none of the pieces feel overly long. In fact, the opposite is true: these are compositions not so much to get lost in, but submerged as if buried by a sonic landslide. ‘the one who bornes a weary load’ is a shuddering monolith of sound that thunders so hard it feels like the earth is shattering, and Wattie screeches and howls, ragged, anguished as if she’s clawing to dig herself out of a purgatorial hole and to cling for life with broken nails on fingers scraped to bone.

There are moments of softness, of quietness, delicate guitars ripple hauntingly on ‘my hope renders me a fool’ and ‘the fable of subjugation’, alluding to post-rock and even folk – if via latter-day Earth – and these moments are evocative, moving. But building to crescendos of monumental proportion, they’re the calms before the inevitable storms, making it impossible to settle back and drift along with these more delicate passages. Sure enough, around the four-minute mark, ‘the fable of subjugation’ erupts move violently than Vesuvius. The album may end on a light note with the short (sub-four-minute) acoustic song, ‘the ten of swords’, but one feels as though darkness lies ahead – as is fitting for a song which references the tarot card which indicates painful endings, deep wounds, loss, crisis, major disaster (or recovery and regeneration, depending on which way up it is). If you’ve seen the news in recent months, this seems unlikely, and it’s hard to imagine that nature morte offers light at the end of its long, dark, airless tunnel.

There’s still an aching beauty which permeates every second of the album, but it’s also ribcage-crushingly heavy and imparts a relentless pain and anguish that’s impossible to escape.

It’s hard to breathe listening to this. The weight lies heavy. For any expectations they may have set with Vital – and the bar was set hight to a point it was hard to imagine anything could even come close – nature morte smashes and obliterates them all.



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