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Push the Sky Away: A minimalist approach for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

On Push the Sky Away by Nick Cave and the Bad seeds, the nine tracks stream lowly, equal parts beauty and soft menace.


3.5 out of 4 stars

Push the Sky Away
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Bad Seed Ltd.

The steel-blue lyrical assassin Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds band are back, in the way some people prefer them.

Where the Australians' previous album Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! was grungy with guitars and garage-rock get-up-and-go, Push the Sky Away is minimalist in comparison. This here 15th LP (out Feb. 19 in a variety of formats) is coolly ominous, slightly fevered and always on the verge of breakout – a "10-ton catastrophe on a 60-pound chain," as Cave himself puts it. Fans of the piano-based Boatman's Call from 1997 might dig it. Lovers of the brooders Leonard Cohen and the National may as well, but if someone says Cave is incomparable, no one needs to fight him too hard on that.

"I am alone now. I am beyond recrimination. Curtains are shut. Furniture has gone. I am transforming. I am vibrating. I am an embryo eating dark oxygen. I am glowing. I am flying. Look at me now."

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That is Cave's vivid self-assessment, and the kind of answer you might get if you ask him how it's going. Or maybe it's something Howard Hughes once said. The passage is from Jubilee Street, a vamped drone lit by kerosene lamp. It cinematically widens as it goes, carried by strings and the voices of French children's choir. The song concerns a woman Cave fears. Her name is Bee, and she really must be something.

Two songs later comes Finishing Jubilee Street, a hazy, head-nodding monologue informed by a dream Cave had upon completion of Jubilee Street. Now, Push the Sky Away is not a concept album, but is a Nick Cave album, which is concept enough for most of us. Nine tracks stream lowly, equal parts beauty and soft menace. It's one of those records that doesn't really need the seconds between the tracks – those tiny, useless interruptions.

A bass guitar rags underneath We Real Cool, a sermon from the gothic crooner: "Who measured the distance between the planets, right down to your big, blue, spinning world?" The question is rhetorical, posed to non-believers by the same man who previously wrote and sang, "Your knowledge is impressive/And your argument is good/ But I am the resurrection, babe/And you're standing on my foot."

You want blues? Cave has blues – ragged, weird Higgs Boson Blues. It's the blues Jim Morrison lived all his life to sing, but it never happened. It's about the devil and Robert Johnson, it's about Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana – it's about the deals we make.

With its glowing organ and slow pace, the title (and final) cut is musically congruous with the preceding material. But the message is a surprise: perseverance in the face of resistance, to keep on pushing the darkest ideas away. The kicker is that while some people say that it's "just rock 'n' roll," Cave knows that the music can be salvation. Amen to that, brother, amen to that.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds play Montreal's Metropolis, March 22; Toronto's Massey Hall, March 23; and Vancouver's Vogue Theatre, April 6.


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  • Get Up!
  • Ben Harper, with Charlie Musselwhite
  • Universal
  • Two stars

Soulman Ben Harper and blues-harp veteran Charlie Musselwhite collaborate accessibly on a disc of Harper-penned originals that is at its best when things stay down and spare, not up. The dockside acoustic You Found Another Lover (I Lost Another Friend) finds Harper in a lilting moan, with Mussellwhite piping just enough behind him. The title cut rides low and undecorated, recalling the Jeff Beck-famous I'm Going Down jam, with spare solos and attractive restraint. Musselwhite's playing throughout the album is lyrical – he's no stormy blowhard. We'll probably see Get Up! next year at Grammy time. I'm down with that. Brad Wheeler


  • Us Alone
  • Hayden
  • Arts & Crafts
  • Three and a half stars

There is a time for wildness and running solo, and there is a time for settling in and accommodating the desires of others. On his sublime and sonically rich seventh album, the 42-year-old singer-songwriter Hayden Desser tunefully ruminates on life's second side, while recalling younger days, too. On the blurry elegance of Old Dreams, all that matters is another's happiness and a mutual vision. The autobiographical Almost Everything easily rocks to a story about losing one's way – Hayden disappeared for a bit after 2009's The Place Where We Lived – and Oh Memory has an odd, comforting stateliness to it. Rainy Saturday is for fans of Wallflowers only, but all else amounts to one of Hayden's finest records. B.W.


  • Chansons
  • Jill Barber
  • Outside Music
  • Three stars

It's not unusual for Canadian jazz singers to perform in both official languages, but few from the Anglophone camp go as deep into la belle langue as Barber does here. Although the arrangements carry a jazz bounce and leave room for the occasional accordion, trumpet or violin solo, there's no trace of jazz in Barber's phrasing – which is as it should be. Barber takes the classic French approach to chanson, emphasizing the poetry of the lyrics and underscoring the emotional tug of the gently flowing melodies. She even resists the temptation to swing Les feuilles mortes (Autumn Leaves), performing it in the original French with the introduction Anglophone performers routinely ignore. -J.D. Considine

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  • Carl Maria von Weber: Sonatas for piano & violin, Op. 10; Piano Quartet, Op. 8
  • Isabelle Faust, violin; Alexander Melnikov, fortepiano
  • Harmonia mundi
  • Three stars

The versatile violinist Isabelle Faust shines some light on an obscure corner of Carl Maria von Weber's music (although it might be said that just about everything Weber wrote, aside from his opera, Der Freischütz, is obscure) with this disc of Six Sonatas for piano and obbligato violin and the Piano Quartet, Op. 8. Mercurial in mood and tempo, Haydnesque in wit, melodramatic as a silent movie score and occasionally as tender as an old French gavotte, the Sonates would have been a challenge for the amateur players they were intended for, although no amateurs could have matched the exquisite discretion of Faust's playing or fortepianist Alexander Melnikov's verve. Piano Quartet is a more substantial piece, framed in somewhat tongue-in-cheek convention, but its central, anchoring adagio both charms and puzzles. Elissa Poole

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