Review: Blixa Bargeld and Teho Teardo – Nerissimo

Blixa Bargeld has gradually metamorphosised from feral-haired post-punk enfant terrible to respectable bourgeois institution, just like his old Bad Seeds mucker Nick Cave. Formed in 1980, Bargeld’s principal group, the Berlin-based industrial hellraisers Einstürzende Neubauten were once prone to stealing construction equipment from building sites near gig venues and then using it to destroy objects on stage. Sometimes they’d even strive to demolish the very stage they were standing on.

Once confrontational outsiders, nowadays Neubauten attract all manner of polite plaudits and high-brow opportunities. In 2014, for instance, they were commissioned by the Belgian town of Diksmuide to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War, which resulted in the performance piece Lament. Granted, they still bash away at bits of junk and metal and stuff, and they remain smoulderingly relevant (it’s not like they’ve become Simple Minds or anything), but they have calmed down an awful lot.

Nerissimo is Bargeld’s second collaborative album with the Italian composer Teho Teardo who also has a noise-punk past, having earned his chops playing in 90s band Meathead. Perhaps inevitably so, this new episode proves not quite as fresh or serenely exciting as its predecessor, 2013’s Still Smiling. There is little on offer that’s as immediately, mischievously lapel-grabbing as the first record’s highlights such as ‘Come Up And See Me’ or ‘A Quiet Life’.

The overall mood feels bleaker and more monotone; less playful, less wryly humorous and more formally classical. Teardo has placed the string and woodwind parts at the forefront, retreating from Still Smiling’s electro palate, although he still includes swirling beats on ‘Ich Bin Dabei’ while ‘Animelle’ features some pretty gnarly boinging sounds.

The album is bookended by two versions of its title track, the first sung in English and the second in Italian (while other tracks come in Bargeld’s native German). “Blue is not the colour of my voice,” confesses Bargeld. “I sing what I sing best / Black / The blackest,” he croaks over aching strings. It’s a gothic lullaby that intentionally flirts with self-parody, as if silently acknowledging that were he to sing the word “black” one too many times he’d start sound like Johnny Nice Painter from The Fast Show.

Throughout, Teardo’s string arrangements croak, groan, wail and weep in accompaniment to the commanding tone of Bargeld’s multilingual, reptilian vocals, sometimes sung, sometimes spoken, often whispered. “Hope should be a controlled substance,” he repeats over the kind of dramatic arrangement you’d expect of a Clint Mansell soundtrack to a film about a Mars-stranded spice-addict with a split personality. He croons elsewhere about empty boats, broken dreams and a Hyde-like beast who resides within the narrator, tossing in only the occasional glimmer of optimism.

Nerissimo’s weirdest moment is ‘Ulgae’, a domestic drama set in a Petri dish, recited in spoken word along to screeching avant-garde strings and munching gremlin noises. Even here, however, it’s more like having an eccentric uncle murmur one of Grimms’ fairy tales into your ear than anything more disconcerting or confrontational. Still, there are innumerable sadder ways to grow up gracefully.

Purchase the album here.

Written by JR Moores