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Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit a tense, beautiful, lo-fi landmark from the second wave of black metal.
In the fall of 1971, a child is born in a remote village in Norway. He will one day rechristen himself Fenriz, after the Earth-swallowing wolf, Fenrir, who appears in Norse mythology and the Satanic Bible. But for now, he is Gylve Nagell, being raised by his grandmother, spending inordinate amounts of time alone. The pivotal moments of his childhood occur while listening to records, music introduced to him by an eccentric uncle named Stein. Pink Floyd catches his ear; a few songs by the Doors hold his attention; but it’s the English progressive rock band Uriah Heep that blows his mind. He’s entranced by the heavy organ sound, the cryptic lyrics, and the mysterious men with long hair who appear on the album’s cover. He cherishes the triple-fold LP like an heirloom from…

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Iggy Pop - Free Music Album Reviews

On his meditative collaboration with the ambient guitarist Noveller and jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas, Iggy Pop turns inward.

Years ago, the world tacitly accepted there was a line separating Jim Osterberg and his feral creation Iggy Pop. Osterberg devised the street-walking cheetah persona of Iggy Pop as a way to tap into his primal urges, but the idea that he was playing a role only came into focus when he managed to survive to tell tales about his hedonism. At this point, decades after his image softened enough so he could score a Top 40 hit and sell travel tickets on TV, the split personality is so accepted it nearly seems like a cliché: Whether he’s on or off stage, he plays the part that’s expected.


Free finds Iggy Pop embracing the notion that he’s playing Iggy Pop. In its liner notes, Iggy admits “this is an album in which other artists speak for me, but I lend my voice,” and that he consented to this peculiar situation because he felt “drained” at the conclusion of the cycle for Post Pop Depression, his 2016 collaboration with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme. A clever fusion of the gnarled fuzz of the Stooges and the arch artiness of Pop’s ’70s Berlin collaborations with David Bowie, Post Pop Depression sounded like an Iggy Pop album was supposed to sound like. It was, to use a phrase Pop coined himself, “a rock album with popular punks,” the snide explanation he gave for his record company rejecting his Francophile 2012 album Après.

Free belongs to the same lineage as Après and Préliminaires, the 2009 album where Iggy returned to his jazzy arthouse inspirations. It’s such a departure from Post Pop Depression that it nearly feels like a repudiation, yet that isn’t quite true. It’s merely another iteration of the divide between Iggy Pop and Jim Osterberg: Homme brought out the rocker, while Free allows Osterberg to turn inward and meditate.

It’s a guided meditation, directed by Leron Thomas, a jazz trumpeter from Houston, and Noveller, the stage name of the Brooklyn-based musician Sarah Lipstate, who specializes in “guitarscapes.” Neither Thomas nor Noveller are particularly well-known. Pop happened upon them both as he was searching for music to play on his regular BBC Radio show and within their music, he recognized a moody elasticity that suits his flights of introspection. Hiring the pair to tap into this dusky, brooding vibe, Pop gave them a pair of poems to act as a lodestar for their compositions—Lou Reed’s “We Are the People,” Dylan Thomas’ middle-school prerequisite “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”—and then sat back, collaborating on occasion but otherwise performing songs handed to him.

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Thomas and Noveller both make a conscious decision to appeal to the parts of Pop that lie above the waist, writing songs that address matters of the head, heart, and soul. The closest Free gets to the carnal is “Dirty Sanchez,” a Thomas-written screed against online sexuality that Pop had to be persuaded to record. It’s odd to think that the author of “Cock in My Pocket” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog” balked at the line “Just because I like big tits/Doesn’t mean I like big dicks,” but the song isn’t meant to be kinky or titillating; it’s tired, enervated by the onslaught of cheap online sex and, in that sense, it fits the rest of Free, which is filled with songs where the narrator yearns to be anywhere other than where he is at the moment.

That yearning isn’t especially urgent, however. Free runs a mere 34 minutes but it meanders, lingering in shimmering twilight vistas, luxuriating in reverb and gaining a bit of momentum when the bass line of “James Bond” nods at spy movies. Every element, whether electronic rhythms or swells of keyboard or stabs of a trumpet, is used as texture, letting Iggy savor the words he recites and croons. Often, the lyrics are as skeletal and suggestive as the music, lending Free a certain spectral quality; the album threatens to come into focus but resolutely resists to offer anything more concrete than whispers and suggestions.

The haziness of Free has its share of frustrations—as alluring as the pensive soundscapes are, it’s hard not to wish they were occasionally more sculpted—but there’s something curiously human and appealing about its ungainly nature. Once again, Iggy Pop is standing outside of the zeitgeist, separating himself from the digital clamor and processed noise that constitutes popular culture at the twilight of the 2010s. Age certainly plays a factor in Pop’s current cultural isolation. Now in his early 70s, Iggy can’t be bothered with the clatter that constitutes hipness, yet he’s not ready to settle down. He’s restless but in a subdued fashion, happy to play the part of Iggy Pop not because he lacks energy or imagination, but because this subjugation allows him the freedom he craves.


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