The good folks at New Weird Australia have continued their excursions into the weird and wonderful of Australia’s musical landscape by releasing Canberra-based duo Spartak’s 3rd album. Nippon is the 8th album release curated by the label under their ‘New Editions’ label and, following impressive releases from the likes of Forenzics and No Zu, keeps the bar set imposingly high.
First things first; if you want hooks, then you’re in the wrong place. You probably knew that already. NWA (I will simply never tire of how amusing that acronym is) is interested in reflecting and to some degree shaping the trends of Australia’s underground and experimental music. The ‘New Editions’ releases are interesting because they loosen the label’s grip on total thematic and conceptual unity; hand-picking and commissioning songs for compilations – which you have full control over – has more predictable implications than leaving it all up to an artist.
Nippon is a series of sculpted excerpts of live performances from Spartak’s tour of Japan. Press material mentions Shoab Ahmed’s and Evan Dorrian’s profound experiences in Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and other parts of Australia. For an outside observer, it is easy to conclude that the magpie-like compositional tendencies of the duo is reflected in some way by that exposure to different musical cultures. Nippon certainly possesses a keen improvisational restlessness, balancing elements of jazz, indie rock, noise and modern classical without ever explicitly spilling over into rote performance of either.
Nippon plays as a single piece of music, a fairly characteristic quality of much partially-improvised music. But it seems that only the strongest, most thoughtful and conceptually coherent improvised albums – consider in addition that Nippon was fashioned from live performances – can effectively sound like a discrete unit of music, envisioned, created and best consumed in one sitting. Nippon is like that: each song is an element that reveals more of Spartak’s compositional style and contributes in a fundamental way to the overall integrity of the album. To remove an element of that is do oneself, as well as Ahmed and Dorrian, a disservice.
The clearest clue of the mood of the album is centrepiece ‘Rail Star Mode’, which utilises pretty textural ambience, video game sounds and eerie processed vocals to call to mind a languid version of Brooklyn’s improv-noise jazz pioneers Little Women. The stuttering, arrhythmic drumming of ‘Wire + Water’ makes it the most obviously jazz-indebted track on here and after the 9-minute long ‘Colour is the Night’, acts as a suitable palette cleanser for the listener. But as mentioned before, talking about each song in isolation is mildly pointless: the demarcations between tracks are largely an issue of convenience. Nippon is best experienced all at once, allowing the unique improvisation of Spartak to wash over you.