Teho Teardo & Blixa Bargeld – Nerissimo

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Teho Teardo & Blixa Bargeld – Nerissimo

I could write a very lengthy introduction to this album, providing a background for the two musicians whose work it is. One of them a Berlin-born alternative musician whose work includes fronting the band Einstürzende Neubaten and playing guitar as one of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds. The other is an award-winning film and theatre composer, whose musical origins can be found in the Italian industrial scene of the early-’90s. Nerissimo is the third album that Teardo and Bargeld have made together, although it is the first of these that I have had the chance to write about and I am, in all honesty, relishing each and every word of this review because Nerissimo is a stunningly realised work from a duo of performers whom are at the absolute pinnacle of their abilities.

Had you put Teardo and Bargeld into a studio together twenty five years ago, the results would perhaps have sounded very different, the metallic conceptualism of Neubaten colliding with the brutalist overdrive of Teardo’s then band Meathead. And while time hasn’t exactly mellowed these veteran stalwarts of the European musical avant-garde, the music of Nerissimo is very much defined by the string quartet which appears on almost every track, with an array of electronics and other instruments providing a richly textured backdrop for Bargeld’s distinctive vocal, sung and spoken in English, German and Italian. The album’s opening title-track seems like a mildly abrasive introduction to both performers, as Teardo’s composition (I haven’t any detail about exactly who plays on the album) provides a cautiously paced accompaniment to Bargeld’s lyric as he speaks about his own voice, and what if any colour best represents the sound of his words. You get the feeling that Bargeld could spout other such surreal nonsense unaccompanied and still get himself an audience, without difficulty.

Indeed, Bargeld’s voice has the sort of qualities that can bring a dramatic tension to even the least complicated phrases and Teardo complements his performance with finely-balanced musicality, one that is simultaneously melodic and percussive. Second track “DHX 2” exemplifies this with its hollow sounding woodwind motif and Bargeld’s spoken vocal, several verses in German before the (in English) repeated statement “hope should be a controlled substance” ends the track, and the skill in avoiding making the words or music too forceful only deepens the resonance of the lyric. It’s next track “Ich Bin Dabei” that has more in the way of the kind of power that you suspect musicians of this kind can possess. Translating as “Count Me In”, Bargeld’s voice takes on a strident quality as the soundtrack rumbles away behind him, and that is a slide guitar adding some keen atmospherics to the track’s conclusion, played by someone who knows exactly how it should sound. It cuts across the strings and other instruments like a coyote dodging a rush hour freeway, its appearance timed to perfection.

Other highlights of Nerissimo include the bafflingly humorous tale of “Ulgae”, an epic historical drama set in a petri dish and presumably performed by a cast of actual bacteria, and the almost overwhelming and operatic “Nirgendheim”, or “Nowherehome” to give the song a loose translation, a song that really does require a full stage and orchestra to convey its themes of tragic grandeur, which both Bargeld and Teardo perform without the slightest hints of irony. The themes of Nerissimo are large ones, the stuff of our overcomplicated everyday lives and of our pasts. Twenty five and more years ago, an album made by Teardo and Bargeld would have been a much more experimental and chaotic experience than Nerissimo, which is both a work of highly adept modern composition and a sometimes conniving but always listenable performance by a vocalist who knows that even the most eclectic of audiences require entertainment. Perhaps it will prove too demanding for some listeners, but few albums I’ve ever heard contain such a depth of musicality and controlled emotive expression as Nerissimo does. Find a copy when it is released on Teho Teardro’s Specula label in April of this year.

Specula Records