Nadja – Luminous Rot Review

I was surprised how unknown Nadja is around AMG Headquarters. I was parading around the new promo like a goddamn peacock, like “WAOW NADJA‘S GOT A NEW ONE GUISE” and was met by a chorus of “uh, who?” The Canucks’ offerings like debut Touched, Radiance of Shadows, and The Bungled & The Botched made regular appearances on my playlist before I lost touch with 2013’s dolphin-themed Flipper. Since, the duo has released five albums, culminating in 2021’s Luminous Rot, which attempts to bring “post-punk, cold-wave, shoegaze, and industrial” influences into the limelight alongside their trademark “dreamsludge” approach. Is it luminous, rotting, or somewhere in between?

2007 to 2008 was peak era for Nadja, releasing Thaumogenesis, a reissue of debut Touched, and my personal fave Radiance of Shadows in that span. While comparisons to drone greats like Sunn O))), Earth, and Black Boned Angel are fair, the Toronto-based husband-and-wife duo of multi-instrumentalist Aidan Baker and bassist Leah Buckareff have professed a dreamier, lusher interpretation of guitar abuse. Radiance of Shadows was the best example of this, as it retained the colossal quality of its drone influence while dabbling in the layers of ambiance and synth. It’s nearly impossible to get an accurate depiction of Nadja‘s mammoth discography, consisting of, ahem: twenty-six full-length albums, nine EP’s, fourteen splits, fifteen collaborations, and fourteen live albums since the project’s 2002 inception. While Luminous Rot‘s reception will depend on your opinions about the style, it nevertheless fails to capture the golden years’ balance and lacks the bite needed for a good drone record.

True to its name, Luminous Rot is noisy and filthy, but also beautiful. Tracks like the centerpiece sprawler “Cuts on Your Hands” balances drony riffs with layers of feedback, cold industrial edges, warm synths, and unpredictable percussion effectively, through a patient swelling songwriting that keeps attention. The title track feels a bit like a Have a Nice Life song, fusing lush atmosphere with post-punk’s drawling vocals and nearly punky drumming. While the sprawling is something Nadja‘s accustomed to, the duo’s sludgier sound really steals the show. Closers “Fruiting Bodies” and “Dark Inclusions” embrace the sludgy quality of its professed sound, creating a unique Joy Division-meets-Eyehategod aesthetic with its apathetic vocals and lushly opaque production alongside. Although it takes thirty-two minutes to get to these tracks, they largely make up the best of Luminous Rot.

Luminous Rot‘s biggest drawback is its failure to capture the colossal quality of Nadja‘s best, which in turn, puts it out of the running by drone standards. Instead of the backbone of monolithic fuzz riffs that allows wayward acts like Big | Brave or Neptunian Maximalism to experiment, Nadja instead splatters its influences all at once. Colder influences in their industrial, shoegaze, and post-punk clash with warmer drone and sludge tones, creating forty-seven minutes of aural drawing and quartering. Furthermore, while acts like Sunn O))) and drone-focused-Boris rely on the shifting sands of their earthshaking guitar movements, Nadja is intent on having their cake and eating it too, expecting their subtler movements to carry the song without driving percussion. While this works for ambient or avant-garde interpretations by Like Drone Razors Through Flesh Sphere or Omahara, Nadja‘s guitar tone isn’t dense or commanding enough and its movements are too smattered to make an impact. Furthermore, while Radiance of Shadows stayed true to cohesive whole with three distinct movements, the tracks of Luminous Rot are abruptly stitched together with no transition and abrupt song endings. Each track, aside from closer “Dark Inclusions,” concludes with a quieter hum, then abruptly cuts out.

I feel embarrassed for having flaunted Nadja around the office. While Luminous Rot executes sturdy ambient drone that balances sludge and post-punk in the closing tracks and the sprawling “Cuts on Your Hands” is patiently ominous, the majority of the act’s twenty-seventh full-length is too hodge-podge to make any waves, calling into question whether or not Baker and Buckareff’s best days are behind them. Luminous Rot eventually achieves what it sets out to do, but at the cost of thirty-two minutes of uncommitted ambient noisomeness. Continuing what feels like a quantity over quality approach, Nadja‘s approach feels bloated and scattered, and Luminous Rot‘s best moments feel like touchdowns in garbage time. True to its name, first impressions are pretty and dense, but beneath lies nothing but rot.


Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Southern Lord Records
Websites: nadja.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/LuvNadja
Release Worldwide: May 21st, 2021

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