This rhetorical question comes along nicely with three records. One is definitively new, in fact, it’s been released today worldwide by Soundwalk Collective & Jesse Paris Smith, daughter of featured Patti Smith’ voice in a spoken word album called “Killer Road”. The next is “Paranormale Aktyvität”, by ZWISCHENWELT (it means in-between). Having only been made available for lucky ones on a limited run of CDs by the time of its original release, it had been taken five years to be a shelved brand new LP at last. Finally, there is a 35 years old copy of “Drama of Exile”, the next-to-last album from a german blonde who was a model, an actress for Fellini, a Factory beauty and Andy Warhol’s muse for a while, before giving her spectral and icy voice to some of The Velvet Underground’s fine songs: Nico (Christa Päffgen). She is the highest common denominator on these three sleeves in a row.
Two of them are connected with Nico in a obvious way. “Drama of Exile” is for being one of her late albums. While “Killer Road” is a tribute album to the deceased artist, who died in 1988, struck by a heart attack while riding a bicycle on her vacation at Balearic island of Ibiza (properly spelled as Eïvissa, in catalan). So, what is “Paranormale Aktyvität” doing in here? Apparently, it isn’t matching at all. It seems to appear out of nowhere, but fans of obscurity know why it is a pick to fit. By the way, it is in central position and relates to those on both sides.
Released originally in 2011 by Aphex Twin‘s imprint Rephlex, “Paranormale Aktyvität” has been reissued for the first time on vinyl thru dutch imprint Clone‘s Aqualung series. It is one of several projects related to Detroit techno veteran Gerald Donald, also known as Heinrich Mueller (impersonation used as member of Drexciya) and the only recording credited to ZWISCHENWELT. This was a collaboration he run with female producers and DJs like NYC based Susana Correira, Penélope Martín from Granada (Spain), and Beta Evers, born Brigitte Enzler in Ausburg, Germany, versed in new wave and experimental electronics from the late 70’s and early 80’s. The result was cold minimal wave with female vocals in post-punk/electro obscurity. It sounded like an updted Nico’s temptative album. At least, a straight inspiration from it, 20 years later.
“Drama of Exile” had a troubled recording and release history, involving from the steal of an unfinished original master to an inappropriate use of it, that caused legal battles and re-recordings… Nico was in situation of impasse after being dropped from Island Records, living a self-imposed exile in Paris, writting new poems and songs that she was adding to the shows she had sporadically, here and there, only to supply her heavy addiction. Nico recorded “Drama of Exile” to give her poetry another chance, a more precise and propulsive sound to the existentialist depth of her verses. She qualified her previous albums as “boring”. In a contradictory decision, she left longtime collaborator John Cale but, at the same time, considering herself as genuine part of one of the most influential bands in rock ’n’ roll history, The Velvet Underground, she hired a different producer (Corsican bass player Jean-Marc Philippe Quilichini) and others musicians. Among them there were Ian Dury & The Blockheads’ sax player Davey Payne and keyboard and synthesizer wizard Andy Clark (Billy Nelson’s Be-Bop-Deluxe), who had contributed on David Bowie’s “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)“, album released the previous year.
Nico descended to a dark reign of her own, embracing new wave with hints of post-punk, trends and styles that she had rejected ever since she took the harmonium as her signature instrument, a complement for that personal, introspective and severe guttural voice. But she was lucky. “Dream of Exile” was the most successful album of her career. Lucky? Well, she began to pace that road, a stony way to ride under the heat of the sun.
Away from comparisons, “Killer Road” makes the same exercise of exploration that did “Paranormale Aktyvität” 5 years ago, each one on their proper expression. The latter score slow moving melodies underneath vast metal structures looking for an exhaustion, a final drowning. While Soundwalk Collective (Stephan Crasneanscki, Simone Merli, and Kamran Sadeghi) works with Jessie Paris Smith to create a tonal ambience, made of different drips, all reminiscent of what a sunny mediterranian afternoon sounds like, from chirping crickets and honeybees flying around to the waves’ rumours of the sea in the distance. An attempt to recreate what Nico listened those minuts before to her irremediable fatal fall. It’s tense and hypnotic like thick dust in suspension, avoiding heat from the ground, A sonic backdrop that flows behind Patti Smith’s distinctive voice, reciting verses mostly coming from albums such as “Desertshore” and “Dream of Exile”.