Friday, 9 December 2011
Review: Na-Hag - Lost Cities
After complaining yesterday that I can't find anyone out there who sounds like Geomatic, I went and had another look. The result was a free download of Na-Hag's newest album Lost Cities. I don't know much about this guy at all, but he fits into that tribal-industrial area and crops up recommended lists for Geomatic, alongside the likes of This Morn Omina, Tzolk'In and Totakeke. The trouble is, while Na-Hag sounds quite a lot like all of these acts, he still sounds nothing like Geomatic. And okay, it's pretty unfair to listen to an album with such a specific expectation, but perhaps if Na-Hag hadn't self-promoted himself on Last.fm by linking to Geomatic's page and thus conning their fans into giving his album a listen, I wouldn't be this unfair. Piggy-back on their name and get judged accordingly, matey.
Lost Cities isn't bad. It's dark as fuck, like all of these guys, unsettlingly creepy and bleak throughout. I'm not one of those people who believe all art should merely entertain and leave us feeling happy or pleased. I love the horror genre, and have high praise for a lot of things that many people would consider extremely depressing or disturbing. The dark ambient/tribal industrial subset, like all of industrial/darkwave/goth shit, is almost exclusively focused on creating moods of darkness and despair, and this album packs a powerful emotional punch. It makes you feel fucking miserable, basically. You're not going to play this one on a summer's day any time soon. And not just because it's December right now (ooh - northern hemisphere crew make some nooooise).
The trouble is there isn't any poignancy to all this darkness. There's no melancholy. There's no beauty. Just as something that's totally 100% super-happy-fun-time with no darkness tempering the prozac rush sounds crass, so in a way does all this material. People rightly lambast stupid e-tard unicorn trance for being childishly cheerful, so why should these moody goth folk get away with such extremes? Because it's an unpleasant emotion, and so we can label it "difficult" and "challenging", and therefore presumably more worthwhile as art? I don't really buy into that. Obsession with darkness and death and misery is a pretty adolescent preoccupation in itself. Lord knows I was like that when I was 15. While it's impressive just how relentlessly bleak all these dark ambient guys can go, ultimately I don't think their music has anything incredibly complicated to transmit. There's no tension, no contrast, no release. It's all monochrome. That's probably why I love Geomatic. More than the fact they sample ethnic wailing to push my covert-hippy buttons, they put in those huge euphoric bits, which are not necessarily happy, but often angry or snarling but always charged and cathartic. And they can write a melody, and bang out a swaggering groove. There's not one melody on this entire album, and while there's lots of tribal percussion and a few thumping techno beats, it's all sterile and funkless. If ever there was such a thing as grim percussion, this is it.
The one exception to all this is album-closer Iron Bird (unless you actually pay for the album, then you get a proper album closer that might be amazing, I'm not blowing mad coin to find out), in which Na-Hag's bleakness suddenly morphs into some bizarre apocalyptic hip-hop, with a toe-tapping breakbeat and an obscured vocal that I'm sure is saying "Get on the floor" like you've just walked through the ashes of dead cities and wandered into some bizarre mutant b-boy throw-down. Maybe this is just my techno-idiot tastes coming through, but this is by far the most interesting part of the entire album. It still sounds nothing like Geomatic, but it's the one moment when Na-Hag isn't being incredibly stereotypical and bloody miserable. This is the kind of track I'll probably remember in about 6 years time when I'm making the obligatory Nuclear Winter Party Anthems mixtape. Until then, this one won't be getting many listens.
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 6/10