Any combination of ‘serious music’ signifiers would do to describe 'Minus'. ‘Haunting’, sure. ‘Spectral’. Great. It all checks out. What such box-ticking would wholly fail to encapsulate, though, is the bravery it took Daniel Blumberg to complete a record at this moment in his life, let alone release it. Its writing was marred by a debilitating breakup with his partner of seven years and the sudden death of a childhood friend, along with his ongoing struggle with mental illness, which had him hospitalised just a week before recording.
Born of daily improvised sessions with an assortment of radical players including violinist Billy Steiger, double bassist Tom Wheatley, saxophonist Seymour Wright, cellist Ute Kanngiesser and guitarist Ross Lambert, all sourced from the crowds at London’s Café OTO, Minus is an album lyrically and musically about deconstruction, in which Blumberg uses melody as a self-righting mechanism. Free, unadulterated dissonance flanks his delicate voice in the service of a singular brand of raw, emotional songwriting which softly soothes the broken heart moments after threatening to stab it.
Though the roots of Minus can be traced back to noise and free music tradition, what consumes the listener is Blumberg’s remarkable songwriting. His backing is best considered an echo of his sentiments in another language. Pathetic fallacy, even, like in ‘Madder’’s first half, when Blumberg pleads with the unknown for someone to ‘save my sorry self’ and the foreboding hum of piano and screech of violin act as circling wolves. Or, “I zip up my mind like I zip up my jacket/I’m all out of line and I’m all out of pocket” on triumphant closer 'Used To Be Older', which is immediately succeeded by the uncomfortable disappearance of half the rhythm section, and some sandpaper-rough guitar work.
This fine line Blumberg treads throughout 'Minus' results in seven deeply moving songs teetering deliciously on the brink of collapse. It was a long time in the making, but now, at the age of 27, Minus feels alarmingly close to the album Blumberg was always supposed to write.
Words: Sean Harper
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