Published on 29th February 2020
Nerve – Music For Sharks
Recently I reviewed the new compilation album from K+K-tactics. The duo described their music as drum and bass, but this is literally a description of the two main instruments, and usually sole instruments, played. That said, I was still able to make a comparison about the style of drum and bass played by K+K-tactics, and the style more commonly understood by the label drum and bass. Somewhat surprisingly, off the back of that review, I have been introduced to another drum and bass band that aren’t. Or at least, they are, but not in the way you might think, even though they sound like it. Confused yet?
The band in question is Swiss drummer Sergé “Jojo” Mayer’s New York-based project, Nerve, and they have set out to recreate the electronic sound of drum and bass with real instruments. Though it might sound like a drum machine, that really is Mayer behind the kit. Already a virtuoso jazz drummer, Mayer became fascinated by the breaks associated with drum and bass and jungle, and taught himself to physically replicate (or reverse engineer, as he puts it) the drum machine’s inhuman sounds. It’s an amazing illusion, and a thoroughly enjoyable one to listen to. In addition to obvious Bandcamp tags such as dnb, house, jungle and electronic, are analogue and jazz. This analogue jazz-meets-electronica hybrid and broken beat sound has fascinated me since I was first introduced to it by one of the pioneers, Mark de Clive Lowe, and a lot of Nerve’s music reminds me of MdCL.
The most recent Nerve release, last year’s Music For Sharks is the soundtrack to an imaginary nature documentary following one of nature’s most fascinating creatures. It is a concept piece that presents a variety of sharks with music, moods and atmospheres appropriate to them, and it works incredibly well, and more so than I would have thought possible.
The first track, appropriately enough, is Goblin Shark. Appropriate because the common name of the shark comes from a transliteration of its old Japanese name, tenguzame – a tengu being a mythical harbinger. And Goblin certainly provides a taste of what is to come, if at a rather placid pace for drum and bass. But then, the goblin shark is a sluggish beast so that, too, is appropriate. The oceanic whitetip shark is also slow-moving but can be opportunistic and aggressive. From that, I can only guess that the Oceanic Whitetip has found its prey. This is a particularly enjoyable track, and it is easy to see why it has been highlighted as a favourite by some of the Bandcamp supporters of the album.
The blacktip reef shark is timid and skittish, but while the track Blacktip Reef Shark is certainly skittish, it does not seem so timid. The blacktip is one of the shorter sharks, with a small range, and its musical equivalent is equally short – which is a shame as I really like this track and would have loved to hear more. The following track, Blue Shark, again captures well the creature it’s named for. The blue shark is generally lethargic but can move very quickly, and the music manages to capture both these aspects very well.
The Whale Shark comes in at a perfect time, it’s placidity giving a breathing space. It’s large, but gentle and poses no threat. This is quite a beautiful track, compare this with the threatening menace of the following Great White and it’s obsessive, hunting rhythm. Great White is, though, my least favourite track, sandwiched between two favourites and the following Mako is probably my overall favourite. I’m not entirely sure of how Mako matches up to the mako, it being the first track where I can’t immediately hear what makes it appropriate. But when it sounds this good, I’m really not bothered. This is a fantastic piece of music!
Tiger Shark is really only a short interlude (albeit a very pleasant one), before the (ultra)sounds of Great Hammerhead kick in, with what I can only assume is a musical exercise in electrolocation. It’s pretty cool! But not as cool as the Thresher Shark, which follows and ends our journey. The thresher is a solitary creature that keeps to itself, and this closing number is a suitably minimalist and almost ambient affair. It’s a beautiful way to finish the album.
Nerve have succeeded, as far as I’m concerned, in what they’ve set out to do with Music For Sharks, describing these large ocean predators through instrumental soundscapes, with incredible evocative powers. That alone would be impressive, but of course it is only one part of the amazing trick that Nerve have pulled of. The other being to create a series of musical sequences on instruments, with the sound of an electronic composition. As I started this review by mentioning K+K-tactics, I’ll be cheeky and copy and paste my final thoughts from that review: ‘This album is definitely worth a listen, if you’re willing to throw caution to the wind. Don’t worry about the label; it’s drum and it’s bass, and it’s terrifically good.’
01. Goblin Shark (3:38)
02. Oceanic Whitetip (5:17)
03. Blacktip Reef Shark (1:59)
04. Blue Shark (3:37)
05. Whale Shark (4:01)
06. Great White (3:54)
07. Mako (5:14)
08. Tiger Shark (0:50)
09. Great Hammerhead (5:07)
10. Thresher Shark (3:54)
Total Time – 39:02
Jojo Mayer – Drums
John Davis – Electric & Acoustic Bass, Therevox, Percussion
Jacob Bergson – Keyboards, Piano, Modular Synthesiser, Percussion
Aaron Nevezie – Sampler, Programming, Modular Synthesiser
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 1st October 2019