kicking against the pricks (UK)

Released in March, the electronic pop of Natalie Beridze’s Forget’fulness has a marvellously glistening, detailed sound which like previous output betrays her time spent in Berlin. As it happens she didn’t go there unnoticed (Markus Schmickler and Thomas Brinkmann have made appearances, the latter releasing several of Beridze’s records on his label Max Ernst, while Pole’s Stefan Betke mastered Forget’fulness). But there’s a warmer and serener quality to Beridze’s productions than you are likely to hear from many of Germany’s robust, technically formidable operators.
Much of Beridze’s stuff has dabbled in glitchy electronics. Her first full-length TBA, released in 2003 under a handle of the same name, enmeshes splinters of lush tunes in crackling beats. Again, not quite sparse enough for Raster Noton, but getting there. Yet even at this stage are glimpses of song craft (‘Wrestler’, ‘Wind’) as well as beatless interludes, and in releases that would follow Beridze seems to have enjoyed exploring union rather than contrast between songs and more dextrous designs. Forget’fulness offers such integration in a style mostly already established by her previous two albums, The Other (2007) and Pending (2010), sharing particularly with the latter a mellower tone. This courtship with pop sees her probably at her most slow-paced and accessible. Some of the music on Forget’fulness has featured in her live sets for several years prior to release, prevailing largely unchanged on record and hinting perhaps at a considerable backlog of tunes.
Beridze’s melodies and chord progressions have wandering structures, conveying roving rumination rather than linear narrative. Her scrapbook lyrics, at least as carefully selected for their aesthetic importance as for their messages, are sung with a breathy restraint more pensive than affected. The ultimate result of these circumstances is an artful balance between the personal and the ambiguous, the orientated and the open. A glittering distance described with a husky closeness. When independent choruses show up at all it may only be once in the song, as in centrepiece and high point ‘The face we choose to miss’. For a chorus so bewitchingly superb, a seeping lowpass swell of rubber bass and synth under Beridze’s quiet wail, it’s a daring move only to play it once. Book-ended by splayed passages, it has little involvement in the full six minutes, but the tasteful execution of the whole thing makes it anything but unsatisfying. The kicks pop wetly, the hats are razor-sharp.
The greatest drawback of Forget’fulness is not its hefty duration of 67 minutes, which somehow in fact manages never to overbear. Rather, it simply gets off to a poor start. The first three tracks, which is to say the first twelve minutes, don’t succeed in demonstrating the full scope of Beridze’s talents. It won’t always do to make such a stuffy complaint; for an entire album to maintain this standard is a tall order. But this time it’s one which is actually largely fulfilled by everything else to come. The remaining eleven pieces are all beautifully refined and dynamic tunes. In contrast the introductory number ‘Nothing ever changes… just rearranges’ feels more obligatory than it does necessary as a means of getting things in motion. It’s an accumulation of vocal textures and processed sounds lasting less than a minute; decent enough, but coming across as brief and irrelevant. Similarly abstract, the later piece ‘Deeply superficial’ is more consistently integrated. The second track and first song ‘‘Forever’ has no shadow’ is perhaps the album’s least rewarding, while the third number ‘What about things like bullets’, despite a good chorus, is driven by a flimsy distorted kick that feels slightly disruptive.
Had Forget’fulness started without these three, it would have lasted 55 minutes, still pretty healthy, and would furthermore have got straight to the good bits: ‘Whatever falls is sumptuous’ wields a crestfallen elegance wholly in keeping with its title. Along with ‘In the white’ and ‘The face we choose to miss’, it delivers Beridze’s wandering pop in its most attractive state. Elsewhere, ‘Blue Shadow’ and ‘Silently’ are sublime piano-led interludes, the former besting a version already released on The Other. ‘Future will (never come)’ has a muscular, awkward romance to it, piano keys stammering over thick bass and a slender beat sequence. At the very end drops ‘Half this game is ninety percent mental’, ten minutes wholly absent of Beridze’s voice during which gangling pads splutter into a cavernous distance. It’s gorgeous.
I came across Natalie Beridze at perhaps a convenient personal stage, being more than weary of the lot of sullen, noncommittal no-fi murk, the hyperbole of garish retrospection and revival or the distasteful loudness saturating current pop trends. Beridze’s smoky voice, ear for detail and talent for composition make Forget’fulness a memorable alternative, and my favourite album from this year.
words: edward trethowan