A Retrospective on Pia Fraus: Nature Heart Software (Seksound, 2006)
Well, it’s almost time for the release of Field Ceremony and, therefore, it’s time for me to round out my retrospective on Pia Fraus’ earlier albums. Nature Heart Software was released in 2006 on Rein Fuks’ very own Seksound label. An early release for the label, it saw the next full length for the band four years after Clairecords’ release of In Solarium. While In Solarium sees the band finding their central sound, Nature Heart Software sees the band spread its wings in glorious fashion as they begin to play with different sounds, textures, and song structures, moving their sound into a more mature place. After the release of In Solarium, Kristel Loide and Joosep Volk departed from the band and Eve Komp joined the band on vocals while Margus Voolpriit joined the band on drums. Returning members included Rein Fuks (guitar, vocals, percussion, drums on “Birds Still Swing”; “Teenage Girl”; and “You Know There Are People Living in the Country”), Reijo Tagapere (bass), Kärt Ojavee (synth, organ), and Tõnis Kenkmaa (guitar). Madis Aesma played trumpet and trombone on “Thank You Peter Parker” and “Japanese Heart Software”. Ok, on to the tracks themselves.
The album opens with “Birds Still Swing”. It’s a brief burst of burgeoning pop swirls with dense guitars and recessed, breathy vocals. Percussion has a syncopation and the band here plays with an almost electronic vibe that really reflects that “software” side of the album title. Further, I think this indicates the that the band has grown and is going to lead the listener into more experimental moments throughout the album. Of the older albums, this may be my favorite opening track. “Pretend to Be Here” begins with that familiar, dreamy guitar strum associated with Pia Fraus. This bouncy pop track recalls In Solarium and gives a little nostalgic wink to fans. It’s also Komp’s first proper track where her vocals aren’t so recessed you can’t really get a sense of her tonality. Her voice is gorgeous and this initial introduction to her brilliance is welcome. The organ on “Pretend to Be Here” adds wonderful melodic accents to the piece as well. The ending turns into a looped electronic moment, again recalling that “software” part in the title of the album.
“Chromatic Nights” has deep bass and fuzzy laden electronic tones floating under bright guitars. A shaker gives the track a wonderful sandy texture as Komp mesmerizes with her playful vocal melodies. That familiar dipping tone in the guitar is present here, with wonderful percussion variations throughout. “Chromatic Nights” ends with bright bells and a sort of improvised horn sound. “Day Week or Season” races through the speakers with an urgency. Fast strummed guitars and energetic bass and percussion mark this animated piece. “You Know There Are People Living in the Country” marks one of the more experimental songs on the album. Stuttering electronic sounds are accompanied by ethereal guitar, spacey synth textures, and pronounced snare centered drum-work. This patient piece contrasts wonderfully with “Day Week or Season”.
“Teenage Girl” brings a bright tapping on the cymbals mixed with glowing guitar and then bursts forth with aggression as the band explodes. The thumping, staccato fierceness is contrasted with Fuks’ reverb laden vocals that are matched with a sci-fi synth tone. The band changes tempos many times here, giving a nice flavor to the song. “Super Time Knowing Gentleman” is a brief, almost ambient track, with experimental guitar noises and quiet piano. It’s a beautiful ending to the A side of the vinyl.
The B side begins with “Thank You Peter Parker.” Another brilliant dreampop track that has an underlying organ tone, “Thank You Peter Parker” has a bite to it that contrasts with Komp’s innocent sounding vocals. Aesma’s delightful horns appear first here which play the piece out. “Come to Me” has a lounge feel, evoking sleek songs being played in dark 70’s nightclubs. The very subtle synth work under the track really reinforces this feel along with the duet from both Fuks and Komp. “Feeling is New” is a very Pia Fraus track, if you know what I mean? It’s a straightforward pop track with little variation throughout. Of course, I love their sound so I find it brilliant even when they fall back into their normal way of doing business.
“No Borders” begins with very electronic oriented synth sounds (or maybe they are fx on a guitar). I love that the origins of the sound are difficult to pin down. Here again there is a mixture of wonderful experimental sounds and textures floating amid the mix. Tempo changes and variations on sounds fill this track, one of my favorites in the Pia Fraus catalog. “Japanese Heart Software” ends this brilliant third album in the Pia Fraus catalog with a jazzy feel. Slow and dreamy, Fuks and Komp play off one another vocally. The horn work here by Aesma is exceptional. It’s a fantastic end to an amazing record.
Pia Fraus’ third full-length is a tour de force. The move into more experimental moments showed the band’s ability to expand their sound while maintaining their signature identity. Nature Heart Software is, in a way, a leap forward for the band. Next, and the last retrospective full-length, is probably the album that many associate with the band. Up next in this writing series will be 2008’s After Summer. Then, in a week’s time, everyone will get to hear the long awaited follow up to After Summer called Field Ceremony. Trust me, Pia Fraus is back and their new offering is well worth the wait!
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