There is a terrifying word in pop culture that sends fingers to delete buttons and hands to typing, “Who is this again?” That word is “old.”
Since music is a young person's game, many artists that have been working in the industry long before most of the music-buying public was alive are forgotten. Some even get ridiculed if they try to stay relevant by trying out disco or dubstep.
This is just how it works. Will Justin Bieber be in our minds when he's all icky and old in five years, and decides to grow a beard? Will Skrillex still dominate electronic dance music when he's gone deaf?
So let's congratulate those who age gracefully, who refuse to bow to trends, even as they assimilate aspects of them. Nick Cave - of the Bad Seeds, The Birthday Party and Grinderman - is absolutely one of these old men who still sticks around and proves how to make vibrant music.
His newest with the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away, is a phenomenal exercise in understatement, all whispering synths and humming bass lines, overlain by Cave's bleak, funny poetry.
Where his work in the last five years has tended towards his rock predilections, such as on the thrashing Grinderman II or Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, Push slowly builds to its climaxes, like the beautiful strings that overlay the thrumming four-chord dirge of “Jubilee Street,” a tale of prostitutes and revenge.
Though he emerged from the New Wave soup in the early 1980s, Cave has succeeded at making music that seems firmly in the future, even when revisiting traditional murder ballads or slimy garage rock. “We No Who U R” sounds like pop music from another dimension, where a serial killer was elected president and decided any music not driving America insane wasn't worth it.
Even better is the final one-two punch of the record, “Higgs Boson Blues” and “Push the Sky Away.” The former dregs up Robert Johnson, the Devil, and a few sliding chords to conjure the end of the universe; the latter's loping synthesizers resemble love lost in a science fiction book.
It's the kind of musical perspective that only decades spent toiling on your craft can create. The arrangements never feel full to bursting, instead leaving space between each sound, so that you can fit your head inside before you realize it's too late.
So, yes, Nick Cave is old in an industry that favors the young, but until Mumford & Sons make a record this subtle, I think I'll call this one for the elderly.