Ambient avant-pop from another world.
It’s taken me a few months to really decide how I feel about “Hinged”, the third album from Maarja Nuut. That’s because it is a strange beast to understand but that is also why I enjoy it. Maarja Nuut has a habit of creating weird, atonal kaleidoscopes of sound that pour out weird emotions and ideas and this album is no different. Esoteric from beginning to end, this is one for the weird gang.
“Hinged” in Estonian means departed souls and the album comes from Nuut gathering five generations worth of trinkets and memories after taking over her Grandmother’s farm. In many ways, this is the perfect title for the album as each track feels ethereal. The synth landscape across every song has a whispy quality – like something is slipping through your fingers. Even Maarja’s vocals, which don’t appear throughout, have an otherworldly hum to them like they’ve been lost in transmission.
The other element of the album is a percussive one. The title track that opens the album with a jazzy bossa nova sleuth feel with quirky organs before “On Vaja” trips up all the synth frequencies like a scuba dive over jamming drums. Indeed, some of the most accessible parts of the album are when the drums are in full force. The crazy grooves of “Jojobell” are infectious and cinematic whilst personal highlight “Subota” is like a mashup of Juana Molina and DVA. Cut up vocal snippets, grizzly synths, rhythmic drum rolls and twisted underwater bubbles lead the way through the chaos. “A Feast” leads the way with warm organs and deep beats as if warmth is passing from generation to generation through vocal snippets of Maarja’s mouth. There are motifs and melodies but they aren’t structured like a verse and chorus. Instead, the tracks move through moods and sign off motifs or riffs and move into altered states. It makes each track feel like an individual journey although it does make the music less immediate.
A couple of tracks move towards the psychedelic ambient and these are also memorable. “A Scene” is a great example of how Maarja can evoke a Vespertine-era Bjork style with gentle bleeps and meandering vocals. It is a beautiful piece and shows that when Nuut does follow a more traditional song structure, she can make it work beautifully. Other tracks feel like transitional pieces of noise and atmosphere as stories pass through her heritage. It’s the fact that the music is fully committed to acting like a jelly you can’t quite pin down that pulls you in but also stops it from being on the absolute top of your list at the same time. As a result, I appreciate “Hinged” as an album perhaps more than I always enjoy it.
That said, several months on from buying it, I’ve been enjoying it more and more upon each listen. There’s something to be said for an album that pulls you back curiously each time to unveil something new you hadn’t clicked with before. Maybe “Hinged” will be an album I’ll truly love in 10 years time. Until then, it is a curious oddity that I’m delighted exists – even if some of it is lost on me.
Recommended track: Subota
Support Higher Plain Music
Higher Plain Music is part of the Higher Plain Network – a one-man indie media project. If you like what I do, please consider supporting me via Patreon for as little as $1/£1 a month. In return, you received additional perks for supporting me there such as behind the scenes content and free downloads. You can also donate using PayPal. Sharing the website helps too or using the affiliate buy now links on reviews. I receive a few pence per Amazon sale. All your support will enable me to produce better content, more often. I’d love to make this a full time media network and your support can make that happen. Thank you.