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Daniel Blumberg’s Minus is an astonishing work; one that weds an improvisational, free-music ethos to the rawest emotional songwriting, rooted deep in the personal turmoil Blumberg experienced whilst making the record.
Minus is an album about breakdowns: relationship breakdowns, mental and physical breakdowns, breakdowns in communication, and the breaking down of received methods and practices. And situated at the broken-down heart of the record lies a pathological preoccupation with a breakdown of trust.
But out of all this, and through the arteries of the album’s seven tracks, pulses a sense of growing fortitude and an almost mantra-like effort to create a way back into the world. Key refrains sound like the fevered incantations of a soul willing itself to recover, to find its voice again, and to resurrect the broken-down self.
The album was recorded live in just five days during a remote residential stay in Wales, amidst a debilitating breakup with his partner of seven years and the sudden death of a childhood friend, along with Blumberg's ongoing struggle with mental illness which resulted in his hospitalisation just a week before recording. “Things were collapsing around me. I became entirely monomaniacal about the record. It was as if everything came to depend on its completion”.
Still only 27 years old, Blumberg has written himself a rich musical history; from his teenage band who signed to XL whilst he was still at school, onto and through the projects of Yuck, Oupa and Hebronix, whilst solidifying close creative partnerships with the likes of David Berman (Silver Jews), Low, Lambchop and Royal Trux’s Neil Michael Hagerty (with whom Blumberg has performed as a member of the Howling Hex).
With Minus, though, there is a sense that Daniel Blumberg has finally arrived at the place he has been searching for.
Blumberg has spent much of the last five years working solely within the radical community of musicians centered around London’s Café OTO, where he has been regularly improvising with a host of forward-thinking, uncompromising musicians, including violinist Billy Steiger, double bassist Tom Wheatley, saxophonist Seymour Wright, cellist Ute Kanngiesser and guitarist Ross Lambert. These daily improvised sessions provoked an epiphany in Blumberg, and sparked a growing hunger for further exploration and investigation.
Blumberg forged a strong creative relationship with Steiger and Wheatley, and together they crafted a new, singular music centred on Blumberg’s songwriting. As material began to find form and the group moved closer to turning the results of these sessions into a record, Blumberg enlisted two more artists synonymous with some of contemporary music’s most progressive work - legendary producer Peter Walsh (Scott Walker’s collaborator since Climate Of Hunter) and much-revered drummer Jim White (Dirty Three, Smog, Cat Power).
Minus pulls the listener into the deep and nuanced reaches of the human soul and proceeds to drag them through all its fractured ventricles. Although the album’s approach can be traced back to improvised avant-garde experimentation, the overriding impact for the listener is Blumberg’s remarkable songwriting, and his natural talent for melody and composition.
Minus stands as an arresting and progressive work, one which is set to establish Daniel Blumberg as one of Britain’s most unique contemporary voices.