Supernaive: Nekomata [Album Review]

Supernaive’s image is as mixed-up as their music. A French electro-dance duo who wear Japanese masks, with kanji backing their sparse stage set-up is truly enigmatic. While the clean cut visuals are striking, it adds an extra layer of mystery to the puzzling conundrum of their sound. Nekomata is their debut album, an ambitious project that unfortunately misses the mark more often than not.

Nekomata kicks off with a trio of singles. Supernaive provide the backing while a selection of vocalists work to add simplicity to a chaotic soundscape. The best of these openers is Warrior featuring Carmeline, whose singing talent puts this on a different level; with a pop sensibility that’s lacking elsewhere. Aficionados of the Bristol Trip-hop scene will enjoy the old-school soulful melodies in the verses, while Supernaive step up to the zeitgeist with modern instrumentation. It’s one of the few times their genre-splitting works and for a sweet few minutes, we hear what this band are capable of. Warrior is far and away the top cut on Nekomata.

After the triple threat comes the rest, with not much to choose from in terms of highlights. Taking Over chills down the mood, a welcome respite from the hurricane of ideas. Under Control is similar, but the 3/4 waltz makes it stand out against the hubbub. Nal is the singer on both of these tracks, her lyrical content is more lucid than the other guests, and benefits from the cleaner musical cuts she’s given. She has three songs to her name, which is the only element of continuity on the album. Nekomata is a maze of styles, it has drops that go nowhere and difficult changes in tone from song to song. Loose melody lines rattle around but never peak, which makes it difficult to get into.

The name of the game for Supernaive is mid-tempo. Throughout this album, they present the differing styles with a background hum of easy beats. They appear at their most comfortable on the instrumental sections. Give Me Love is a pleasant stripped-down tune, where the boys just sit and pump out a decent trancey vibe for a few minutes. It’s a song that makes you yearn for a couple of similar tracks on the album. This also raises the point that something which nags incessantly is that they would have got a better record with less complication. Nekomata is a stab at bringing a smorgasbord of forms to the listener, but this high-concept ambition is often dragged back by Supernaive’s lack of ability in some of the styles they dabble in. That’s not a dig at all – This kind of album is incredibly difficult to pull off, and some of the finest musicians have failed with such projects.

What may have begun as a collection of strong, well-rendered ideas, has been boiled down to something less than satisfying. While Nekomata will initially stun you with a wave of intricacy, this dissipates as Supernaive struggle to tell us exactly what point they are trying to make. This album does little to advertise the band effectively, which is a shame as with some focus they could do well with the creative attitude they have. By experimenting in the way they do, every now and then Supernaive come out with something good. As for the rest? It’s a tough listen.

Debut album Nekomata is due June 26th 2020

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