Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Album Review: Dorena - Nuet

Album Rating: A
"A lot of things took place in our lives during the past two and a half years since our last release. And as we grow older, we notice that the years keep flying by faster and faster. These songs are ways for us to hold onto things that would otherwise be distorted by memory or fall into oblivion.”
-Kim Ruiz, Dorena

Stop reading this and look at your hand. I mean, really, really hold it right up to your face and look at it. Examine each little line, each part of a map you could get lost in for hours; the colors, subtle shades of peach or tan or mocha, forming a tapestry rich with history; the scratches and scars only you are privy to. Why is it that way? How did it get there?

Those aren’t questions most people are asked every day, granted, but they popped into my head nevertheless as I peered at the hand on the cover of Nuet, Swedish post-rock band Dorena’s newest release. It’s almost childishly small, one little paw in a sea of tan, yet within it, the mementoes of an entire compact life are illuminated, a world built out of kisses and Christmas trees and stuffed animals. I wondered, for a split-second, what secret of life would reveal itself to me if only I could see my own hand the way I saw that hand—and the story contained within it.

Over the past three years, my love of post-rock has waned some as the genre’s been saturated with unearned crescendos and banal, empty fury, draining but never invigorating. Dorena’s approach is in many ways the antithesis to an increasingly stale approach: yes, there are some towering climaxes on this album, but it’s the little things the band does that’ll truly tug at your heartstrings. That same sense of smallness permeating every layer of Nuet is why it sounds more profound to me than any post-rock album I’ve heard in years.

The central theme of Nuet is the present, and it’s well-illustrated by how the band plays with the concept of time in its music. There’s a very neat tie-in to that theme in both the opener (“Semper,” the Latin word for “always”) and the closer (“The All-Clear”), where the rhythms of each tick, each song a clock counting the time away slowly but persistently. Strangely, Dorena not only acknowledges this passage of time but almost embraces it: there’s a minute-long coda to “Her Comforting Touch” that’s just a swirl of ambient noise. The discerning listener’s first impulse would be to deride it as inefficient songwriting, but the band fills the empty space with instrumentation that’s so heavenly that it’s easy to embrace the moment in its imperfect beauty—and perhaps that’s the point. Likewise, “Young Hearts Of Summer” zigzags without a care in the world, taking a bunch of little motifs and finding tons of ways to put them together, finding new significance in each piece. The impulse to evaluate this album from the perspective of a budget manager kicks in now and then, but as Nuet progresses, a sense of profound peace takes over.

For an album about the present, Nuet focuses quite a bit on the past: the instrumentation reinforces a notion of our histories as something fleeting but beautiful nevertheless. Dorena’s instrumental palette is adorably colorful, and they use it to evoke striking emotional highs. “Her Comforting Touch” truly heralds the arrival of spring, opening with a distant 8-bit loop that evolves into a quilt of strings, glockenspiel, vibraphone, and various other twinkling instruments. Even in more wistful moments, the music soothes the spirit: the wordless, solemn gang vocals in “Semper” let you know you’re not alone, while the synths in “Dandelion” float like balloons even when the guitar above it is wailing—and the latter track offers a promise that childhood is not lost. It feels like sitting on a grassy bough from sunrise to sunset and seeing everything the world has to offer, little wisps of flower so fragile that just one blow of the wind can wash everything away.

Though I hesitate to call any part of this album dark, there’s definitely more to the album’s emotional subtext than just chirpy nostalgia. “My Childhood Friend” sees the band demonstrating its mastery of tension and atmosphere to illustrate its complex but ultimately optimistic philosophy. The opening evokes Red Sparowes, with a real sadness lurking just beneath everything: as always, though, Dorena’s attention to texture and layering makes the track immersive, even if it isn’t necessarily comforting. The true meat of the track comes around three minutes in, though, when the guitar reenters the fray with the gusto of an Irish kegstand—and the entire band joins in, never letting up until the end. The duplicity is as crafty as it is poignant: at first, the song seems like a weepy portrait of everything you left behind in the past, but then it rushes back into your memory with that guitar, fireworks reminding you in one big burst of light that he may be gone now, but he was there once, and he’s still here somewhere, woven into the innumerable lines of code that make you you. Only then can the band finally let go, in a frenzy of gang vocals and a drum set so ferocious it’ll eat you whole.

“A Late Farewell” inspires curiosity from the moment you look at its absurd length (nine minutes!), simple construction (the layering’s straightforward here, beginning with jazzy drum rhythms and bringing in bass and guitar one by one), and the abundance of sorrow (rare for Dorena). You wonder if the song will end there, but as it turns out, we’re only three minutes in. Glockenspiel takes up the melody from here, the drum thumps like a healing heart, and the song just builds and builds. Just when you’re about to check your watch, the band absolutely detonates in front of your eyes as the crunch of the guitars, crushes every fear, every doubt, every lie you tell yourself because you don’t feel like you’re worth it when you know in your heart you matter. Let it go, the music tells you. Let it go.

The funny thing is that had you been listening to the lyrics, you’d have understood that already:

“Can you see me now? I stay here. But here is emptiness.
Left in me is you. When ink fades out. As laughter turns to silence.
The years go by. And my heart is still beating. It still beats, after all.
A late farewell. And everything's fine. I'm alright, after all.”

In a time when unemployment is hitting hard, self-help books line the shelves of every bookstore, and advertisers make millions off of making us feel insufficient, the last thing you expect to hear is that you are alright. When everybody’s making art about how difficult things are, how broken, how lonely, how miserable and screwed everything is, Dorena is laughing because years have gone by—and our hearts are still beating. Everything’s fine.

Maybe that’s the message to take away from Nuet, in the end: time passes. People grow together, fall apart, each leaving an imprint, a fingerprint on a panel of glass covered in them. But that glass is still intact. With its latest, Dorena presents a completely new way to see emotions: they are not angry, churning seas we are doomed to drown in, but oceans of life, built out of millions of droplets, beaten by time but never broken. Each little speck is a reminder that you are here, and you matter. All you have to do is hold on.

Artist Website

1. Semper
2. Her Comforting Touch
3. Young Hearts Of Summer
4. Dandelion
5. My Childhood Friend
6. A Late Farewell
7. The All-Clear


  1. That's a good review of a good album. I really enjoyed reading this.

  2. I appreciate the feedback. Thank you!