It is absolutely no secret that ‘Minus‘, the debut solo release from one time Yuck frontman Daniel Blumberg, shared joint placement with Cosmo Sheldrake’s seminal ‘The Much Much How How And I‘ as my absolute favourite album of 2018, going so far to describe it as a ‘modern masterpiece’. I literally told anybody who would care to listen (and probably a number of people who didn’t) just how much I love it and how absolutely bloody marvellous it was. In fact, here’s a few words I had to say about it at the time:
“To allow others into the artistic representation of one’s personal anguish on such a profound scale is an extraordinarily brave move as a musician, as any form of criticism becomes immediately entirely personal, with no shield between critic and creator. The risk pays off in this case and, even after repeated listens, I find it impossible to find a single flaw with what is on offer”.
Looking back on ‘Minus’ close to a year later, I have to say that I still feel the same way now as I did all the way back then. I find myself revisiting it frequently, always discovering small details that I had missed on previous listens, constantly amazed by just how it manages to straddle a fine border between the borderline unlistenable and the absolutely heartbreakingly beautiful. So imagine my delight when I found that Mr. Blumberg had a ‘new’ release to treat my ears too. I apostrophise the word new as really, this is a previously unreleased collection of works that predate the creation and release of ‘Minus’, setting the foundations of what to come, with a five track creation. Does it live up to the standard Mr. Blumberg’s solo debut though?
In a word, absolutely.
The thing that immediately makes me love ‘Liv‘ is the fact that there is still that unmistakably improvisational feel to it, with a heavy dose of atonal ambience and experimentation, yet it still manages to not just end up being a rough design of what was to come. In fact, it would be fair to say that the album itself is actually a lot more easy on the ear and would work as a good gateway to bringing people in on ‘Minus’. There is a definite feeling that the aim here was to create a wall of emotionally charged noise, packed with fuzzy electric guitars and screeching strings, all offset against a clean and melodic vocal line, free from any peculiarity. Yet it is far more tuneful (I can’t think of a better word) body of compositions, often surpassing the ten minute mark in length. Think Damien Rice in his most wildly heavy and impactful moments (see ‘I Remember‘ and ‘Prague‘, particularly live versions played with his full band). The sixteen minutes of my personal high point, ‘Cover‘, with it’s vocal chants and completely f***ing wild slams of guitar, wails and cat-like cries, all soaked in distortion, jumping between sparse moments of minimal beauty and absolute f***ing all out chaos, is an absolute thing of beauty. It may put off the casual listener, but dig in deep and allow yourself to simply feel the music. It’s clear that this is what Mr. Blumberg did when creating it.
On the other end of the spectrum, album closer ‘Life Support‘ is utterly overflowing with hopelessness and despair, starting as a tuneful, haunting ode to love, eventually climaxing with a huge amount of destructive noise, akin to a love turned bad. It’s an easier listen for the most part, but little touches like the creak of a chair left in the mix make it feel organic and authentic, as though we sit in the room as a story is being told to us, empty whiskey bottles bathed in dimming candlelight, the tensions of sadness and loss perfuming the room.
To summarise, ‘Liv’ is easily as good as ‘Minus’. In fact, in some ways it is a far more pleasant listening experience overall, but to try and compare it with it’s follow up would be foolhardy at best. Each is a seperate entity with it’s own meanings and intentions. It too is a challenging listen at times, but for those who appreciate the more avant-garde side of things and the bleaker side of beautiful music, I implore you to listen.