Four decades after emerging as the seething front man of the Birthday Party Nick Cave has lately been making some of the most challenging and rewarding music of his long career. His recent albums both with the Bad Seeds and as a duo with his right hand Seed Warren Ellis unfold in long contemplative stretches slashed through occasionally with Caves old menace. The song forms have become progressively more open ended the narratives more diffuse and dreamlike the instrumental arrangements softer and blurrier the subject matter more openly preoccupied with questions of love and death. With each successive release Caves work grows more distant from rocknroll and closer to religious music. The religion admittedly is an idiosyncratic one whose high priest may also be its sole practitioner—a song writer my stic for whom sex monsters and bloodshed are as important as everlasting grace.
In contrast to the grand statements that Cave has produced in this vein Seven Psalms is a self consciously minor work. It consists of seven spoken word pieces of one to two minutes each with vaporous musical accompaniment from Cave and Ellis and ends with one longer instrumental that is essentially a medley of the previous backing tracks incorporating elements from each. The format and release strategy also encourage listeners to think of it as something other than the new Nick Cave album a limited edition 10 EP sold via Cave Things a web store that Cave has set up to sell art prints Polaroid photos T shirts and the like—what he calls the incidental residue of his creative practice. If he were a visual artist primarily you might imagine these seven pieces hanging in a small and rushed through anteroom to an exhibition of this distinct period in his work included as interesting but inessential context for masterworks like 2021s Carnage and 2016s Skeleton Tree.
Cave flirted with spoken word on Carnage in performances that were rich with drama and irony taking breaks from his more traditional singing to cajole plead and intimidate. On Seven Psalms the speeches are the main event The fact there is music playing at all seems largely incidental. Cave is a much more reliable narrator this time around ditching the previous albums flashes of mania and hilarity in favor of solemnity and sobriety. You get the sense that this is the real Nick Cave delivering these lines not some made yed character hes inhabiting. The music—a blend of synthesizers gos pelin flected piano and occasional wordless vocal harmonies all swathed in heavy reverb—establishes a stately and ceremonious mood and never wavers from it reinforcing the notion that Cave means what he says.