Oh Neneh. Buffalo Stance, Manchild, 7 Seconds and Woman are all such brilliant pop tunes, ahead of their time and inspirational to current artists. Now the Swedish-American singer has released her first solo album in nineteen years and her change of sound is likely to upset a few people.
Produced by Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden, ‘Blank Project’ is a low-fi, sparse and abrasive record that on first listen seems worlds away from the polished hip-hop inspired pop of her past, though you can certainly hear the roots of her sound littered throughout. The change in style is immediately apparent from opening track Across The Water – Cherry half singing, half rapping with wavering tuning accompanied solely by a sparse percussive beat. The lyrics are intensely personal, much of the album inspired by the death of her mother (“since our mother’s gone it always seems to rain”), whilst her voice ranges from wailing howls to animalistic cackling and an eerie whisper.
It’s likely for this reason that the album’s aesthetic is so empty, barren and angry, resulting in music that’s experimental, agitated and psychologically offbeat. Tribal percussion clashes with scuzzy synths and Cherry’s often pained vocal: the menacing title track; the cowbell and melismatic singing of Naked; the driving dance rhythms of Weightless; the angular beats of Cynical; the hypnotic, hammering sounds of Everything. There’s a similarity with last year’s ‘Shaking The Habitual’ from that other great Swedish export, The Knife, an album that similarly eschewed pop roots for something raw and animalistic.
The same can be said of ‘Blank Project’, which has a distinct lack of polish. The production is sparse to the extreme (as the title would suggest), almost sounding like a series of unfinished demos. You can practically hear the dry drum sounds bouncing off the studio walls. This emptiness is clearly a purposeful decision, the harsh music confronting the listener with challenging, dark lyrical themes that explore the deepest abysses of the human psyche. It’s certainly a bold change of pace, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily pleasant to listen to. Not that music has to be pleasant at all, but with a lack of melodic invention we’re simply left with a suffocating sense of percussive oblivion. ‘Blank Project’ isn’t without merit, certainly in terms of Cherry’s raw honesty and musical bravery, but not even a guest appearance from Robyn can save the day.
Listen: 'Blank Project' is available now.