Final yr, a outstanding rock’n’roll time capsule got here to mild. Unheard for greater than 50 years, Lou Reed’s acoustic demos for his soon-to-be band – the Velvet Underground – have been launched, revealing one of the vital necessary cultural partnerships of the twentieth century in its infancy. If that declare sounds inflated, in addition to motivating a fantastic many taboo-busting creatives vulnerable to carrying shades, the Velvet Underground additionally impressed superfan Václav Havel and Czechoslovakia’s resistance to Soviet totalitarianism.
The opposite particular person within the room with Reed was Welshman John Cale, whose mastery of repetition and drone – one gleaned from his research within the New York noise avant garde – made the Velvet Underground simply as groundbreaking as Reed’s chemically frank lyrics. Cale’s physique of labor since has lined a rare quantity of territory, encompassing experimental choices, notable collaboration, soundtrack and manufacturing work – Patti Smith, the listing goes on – in addition to albums of his personal songcraft.
All through, Cale’s sonorous voice has been as frequent a presence as his bass or viola work, his intonations usually recalling late-life David Bowie – a detailed pal whose youthful excessive jinks with Cale are celebrated within the video for Night time Crawling, a monitor from Mercy, Cale’s newest album. Cale can be 81 in March; he’ll quickly resume a UK tour derailed by Covid a couple of months in the past. Mercy is his first album of recent songs since Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wooden (2012), an sadly titled outing that featured icy digital beats and a few curiously flat collaborations with the producer Hazard Mouse.
Marilyn Monroe’s Legs is one other title you would like somebody had run previous any particular person residing within the twenty first century
Nookie Wooden was a portrait of an artist trying to transfer forwards however maybe not discovering the proper inputs, or co-conspirators to share the room with. Mercy presents up songs wherein Cale croons both cavernously or numinously, his long-fingered work on piano and strings rubbing up in opposition to electronics, as they did on Nookie Wooden.
A cadre of a lot youthful, usually leftfield collaborators line as much as change concepts with a titan of cool. They’ll convey a lot to the desk. Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood has one of many loveliest voices in up to date American tune, however she additionally spent years in noise bands. Her languorous presence on the luxurious and glitching Story of Blood quantities to way over that of a token feminine foil, a gathering of minds comparable in spirit, if not in sound, to David Byrne’s team-up with St Vincent in 2012.
Psychedelic heroes of the 00s Animal Collective are available to lend gauzy mischief to Eternal Days. Doppler results dapple, backing vocals hiccup, and Animal Collective pace up and decelerate the tune’s tempo to emphasize the slipperiness of time; a very good match. Though Marilyn Monroe’s Legs is one other title you would like somebody had run previous any particular person residing within the twenty first century, the semi-improvised monitor permits British producer Actress to get caught in, with an undertow of twitchy dread.
Cale’s lifelong devotion to unusual sounds stays very a lot in proof; just about each monitor right here finds some approach to be intriguingly unsettling as he ponders “lives mattering”, or the retreat of the polar ice sheets – or Nico. Foisted on the Velvet Underground by Andy Warhol, the German vocalist had her subsequent solo albums produced by Cale. On Moonstruck (Nico’s Track), he tenderly considers the “moonstruck junkie woman” (once more, technically correct, however…) and comes “to make my peace” together with her.
Top-of-the-line issues about Moonstruck, nevertheless, is its lack of beats. Maybe essentially the most baffling facet of Cale’s latterday work is his penchant for dated rhythms. As somebody whose profession coincided with the machine-music age, whose collaborators have included the daddy of ambient, Brian Eno, Cale appears to have an enormous blind spot right here. Mid-paced and desultory, his beats principally limp alongside within the type of Nineteen Nineties DJ bar aural wallpaper. They reimagine trip-hop badly, or echo 00s chillout playlists. Maybe nobody has the braveness to tell this pillar of the avant garde how anachronistic his strategy is. Maybe the years Cale spent working with Nick Franglen of Lemon Jelly have had a really lengthy tail.
Whereas the title monitor has its gooseflesh moments – Cale singing “I’m searching for mercy an increasing number of” – there’s a politeness to all of the percolations beneath, cooked up in affiliation with digital producer Laurel Halo, who as soon as put out difficult work on the Hyperdub label.
This report is crying out for the calibre of musicians that helped Bowie make Blackstar, or Invoice Callahan’s painterly band, or a very dial-moving producer – or maybe some mental assaults on the very notion of music itself to pin the listener down and inform them that John Cale – John Cale! – is within the constructing. As it’s, “rivers rush by” on probably great tracks akin to Not the Finish of the World, the place Cale actually leans into his Bowie-esque supply. Under, the beats examine their telephones.