nadja-when-i-seeIn 2008, Canadian dronemeisters Nadja released 14 singles, splits, EPs, DVDs and full-length albums. Some were live; some were reworked versions of earlier albums; some were proper studio recordings. Traditionally, the covers album is a stopgap measure. Not so for this duo of guitarist/programmer/vocalist Aidan Baker and bassist Leah Buckareff. As one of the only types of projects that they haven’t already completed, Nadja’s permafried covers album When I See the Sun Always Shines on TV represents a necessity.

Nadja’s absurdly prolific work ethic suggests compulsion and confidence, and there’s plenty of both in these detailed drone-ifications of the source material. A band less assured of itself, or less absorbed in its own aesthetic, wouldn’t have the balls (or their female equivalent, in Buckareff’s case) to reimagine Slayer’s “Dead Skin Mask” as a ten-minute dirge, or turn the sprightly new wave tune “Long Dark Twenties,” from the soundtrack to the Kids in the Hall movie Brain Candy, into a bleached shoegaze throb.

When I See the Sun Always Shines on TV is perhaps the most approachable album Nadja has ever made, in that it channels Nadja’s signature slow-growth digital moss through proper songs with actual vocal lines. It’s also a disappointment. The album slathers every song in the same electric Jesu honeyglaze, paving over the quirks of the originals and diluting Nadja’s fathomless production style into surface gloss.

There are triumphs here, like Nadja’s version of “Needle in the Hay,” which turns the dejection of Elliott Smith’s acoustic original into unsettling paranoia. It works because Nadja’s interpretation picks up on hidden emotional cues that the original incarnation only hinted at. Unfortunately most of the rest are exercises in aesthetic, not interpretation. Take the cover of Loveless opener “Only Shallow.” Nadja stretch My Bloody Valentine’s white-hot shimmer into colorless gas, slowing and diluting its pop hooks into a hazy yawn of an opener. It’s a pretty embarrassing homage to a group to which Nadja owe a heavy debt.

The average MetalSucks reader will probably only give a damn about this album because of the Slayer cover. Nadja prove that you can even defang one of the best metal tunes of all time if you spend far too long doing nothing with it. Slayer themselves proved on “Gemini” that the kings of speed ain’t half bad when they slow down to doom velocities. That was on their own covers record Undisputed Attitude (1996), which was far less ambitious but way more satisfying than When I See the Sun Always Shines on TV. Where the former felt passionate, the latter feels disengaged. Where Slayer’s speed metal energy pumped new blood through the source material, Nadja’s saturated guitar drones weigh down theirs. Baker and Buckareff may fill the frequency spectrum with pregnant noise, but this album still feels empty. But that’s okay. Nadja are sure to redeem themselves on one of the other seven albums they’ve no doubt planned for release this week.

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(2 out of 5 horns)


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