ALBUMS: Immersion Surrenders to Beauty, and Achieves Transcendence
With the help of such collaborators as Laetitia Sadier, Ulrich Schnauss, Tarwater and Scanner, Nanolcuster Vol. 1 is so beautiful, exotic, immediate and compelling as to defy description
We surrender to beauty, because this is where we are, this is where we must be. We surrender to beauty because it reflects not only our depth, but also our desire to concede to the shadows made by the gray/pink dusks of age. We surrender to beauty because it fills the mold of wisdom, until we can replace wisdom with beauty. We surrender to beauty because it is the most sensible shade with which to color the onrushing shadows.
We surrender to beauty because we have more years behind us than we ever imagined we would have. This is because we were one of the first generations to be conned into thinking we would be forever young. Therefore, as impermanence catches up with us in its’ cruel but sensible fashion, we must surrender to beauty because beauty is the best and last possible framework for this collapsing building, this collapsing body, this collapsing faith in the framework we built our superficial castles of rhetoric and ideals on, which melted like so much candy in the rain when exposed to the hard truth of reality and time.
We surrender to beauty because we have recognized, with a shock that reflects a naiveté so extreme it is ludicrous, that the freedoms we took for granted were just a gasp between the standard business of the gristle of animal chaos, fascism, and autocracy. As the sage Phil Ochs wrote, “In such ugly times the only true protest is beauty.”
I use these sorts of words because I find that Nanocluster, Vol. 1, the new album from Immersion (the ongoing musical collaboration between Colin Newman, Malka Spigel and a group of ever-changing, extraordinary collaborators) is so beautiful, exotic, immediate, and compelling as to defy description. It is not only one of the most beautiful albums of the decade, but also one of the best albums of this century so far.
Album: Nanocluster Vol. 1
★★★★★ (5/5 stars)
This gentle yet persuasive pop, humming, buzzing, chiming, burping, clicking, blinking, winding and unwinding, soaring and sailing, is like a silver airstream, an invisible Jetstream. Nanocluster, Vol. I is a daydream of northern lights, lullabies cooing, turn signals clicking on desert road lit by nothing but a spray of stars. Nanocluster, Vol. I is majestic, graceful, meditative, and extreme. It is krautrock in a creamery, Yé-Ye in a Tangerine Dream, Wire in a rainbow body, Wire in a rainbow body, Wire in a rainbow body. It is unexpected extremes of strange beauty in a time shoebeoxed by uncertainty. Nancoluster, Vol. I is, from start to end, beauty that is wide like the hallelujah sunsets of a dying southern summer day.
Immersion have released six full albums and two EPs since 1993 (more or less – some of those are remixes).
Newman and Spigel, DBA as Immersion, have made brilliant music before – Sleepless was one of the very best albums of 2018, and gave notice that Immersion was far, far more than a side project – but to say that Nanocluster, Vol. 1 turns it up a notch would be a significant understatement. If Sleepless (a fairly essential album) was Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!), Nanocluster, Vol. 1 is Pet Sounds. The Beach Boys comparison is not entirely random on my part; again and again, Nanocluster reminds me of the more stately, elegiac, patient and intensive side of the Beach Boys displayed on songs like “Surf’s Up,” “Till I Die,” “Let’s Go Away for a While,” or the extraordinary, almost holy instrumental Dennis Wilson tracks.
See, when the Beach Boys were/are at their best, they touch the death inside of the dream, and the dream that cannot exist without the beautiful, inevitable shadow of death, right? I mean, the long night I first lived inside of Pet Sounds, the distance between existence and non-existence disappeared. This was not just because of the LSD but also because that is the theme sound of Pet Sounds: Darkness is in light. Light is in darkness. Beauty cannot, absolutely cannot exist without the reality of the end of beauty (just as childhood only becomes childhood when it has passed, and the strangeness of childhood’s totems and visions are only strange when seen from the perspective of adulthood). Very, very rarely can music touch that place, summon that emotional locale so explicitly, surrender to beauty that only emerges when beauty’s frame, definer, and telescope — death and the end of beauty — is recognized. You know it when you hear it, and I hear it on Nanocluster, Vol. I.
Immersion was designed as a collaborative project, one that reaches its’ fullest realization on Nanocluster, Vol. I, which engages four primary collaborators (all of whom work on separate tracks), and who each create distinct works within the steel wool and pearl container built by Newman and Spigel. These collaborators are Tarwater (Ronald Lippok and Bernd Jestram), the amazing Laetitia Sadier (who needs no introduction, and whose work on Nanocluster is absolutely stunning), Scanner (aka Robin Rimbaud), and Ulrich Schnauss, one of the masters of modern krautrock. Add all this together, and honestly, you have the fucking White Album of art rock, diverse but unified, alternately melodic, hypnotic, tear-birthing, gut throttling, and always, always Immersion. Each collaborator brings in something different, yet the quality control is extraordinary, and there isn’t a moment here that doesn’t add up to, well, exquisite.
Yes, I have compared Nanocluster, Vol. I to both Pet Sounds and the White Album. I am a nearly old man, so I do not say these things lightly. With Nanocluster, We hear something that extracts cells from every musical dream we have had for forty-five years. Nanocluster accomplishes this so effortlessly, so organically, and so full of uncomplicated complication. Like a dream, we go through strange yet familiar hallways, and sail on streamlined deco trains through stone circles and cityscapes that sparkle with gold starlight. It all feels so familiar, yet so astounding.
The greatest art rock has a point of view. It is not just people moving fingers.
The greatest art rock is no better than you. It puts effect above affectation, impact above artfulness.
The greatest art rock is artistic but not arty. It is remarkable, but not pretentious.
The greatest art rock does not seek to impress, but to evoke. It makes you feel even before it makes you think. It touches you before it awes you.
This is, say, Cale’s Paris 1919 or La Monte Young’s The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer. This is Tony Conrad’s Four Violins, most anything by genius Moondog, or Faust and Conrad’s Outside the Dream Syndicate. This is Wire’s Chairs Missing, or Pink Floyd’s Meddle, or any goddamn thing by Stereolab or Kraftwerk, or especially Scott Walker and Sunn O)))’s Soused. And this is Nanolcuster, Vol. I.
Significantly, Nanocluster, Vol. I is the first Immersion release that is unquestionably equal to or superior to any Wire release. That’s not a casual thing to say; after all, Wire have made (at least) five flawless albums in the last 44 years, with another half dozen or so slotting into the ranking just a cat’s whisker below flawless. Nanocluster combines the slippery, creamy, obvious yet inventive melodicism of Wire with the gentle but bright and un-obvious robotics, bubbles, chimes, and airstream/jetstream synthetic pads of the very most beautiful and most exotic music of our lives (Nanocluster = early R.E.M. + Harmonia/Cluster pretending to be Francoise Hardy doing Exotica?). Note: This isn’t music to zone out to, but to achieve pop ecstasy to. That’s because it shifts, engages, and moves like the vanishing and reappearing heat mirage point of a road appearing and disappearing under a two hundred yard stare. It is a strange and exotic deck of tarot cards, full of omens and joy and death, shuffling under the stars, reflected by the luminescence of city and ocean.
VIDEO: Immersion feat. Laetitia Sadier “Riding The Wave”
What else can I say? When I could hold icicles and turn them into sorrow/happy, some god of coincidence and love showed me “Surf’s Up.” When I could close fists in ecstasy and coat barbed wire with sugar and rum, the same god brought me Branca’s 2nd Symphony No. 5. When Bo Diddley demanded a sky burial, I found “Hallgallo.” When I was fully ready, I looked up to the ceiling where I thought I would find Adam and God touching fingers, but instead Elvis and Sam at Sun Studios were revealed to me, making blue lightning eight years before I was born. When I was ready for thunder to be made quiet, this god of random moments (and the 8th Avenue local when it was still the CC) brought me Young Marble Giants. And on and on, there it is, this beauty and insanity and impermanence in all its’ certainty, and here is the Mystery Train that took us back to La Monte Young’s babysong and Louis’s Heebeejeebees and then forward to a time where we could hear it all in the space and pulse of Immersion.
And Colin Newman and Malka Spigel, they knows all this, they can see inside of me! They can see that every pin-light of beauty, ever aqua orange morning and every opal/ebon night, that every discovery contains death and the chalk cliffs that look over the eternity that we will watch silently and without comment are so beautiful they cannot be described, and they have wrapped it all up and made Nanocluster, Vol. 1.
I surrendered to beauty, because it was an inevitable overtone in my history, and I surrendered to beauty, because it sounded as simple and constant as the life in death and the death in life.
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