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Killer Road (feat. Patti Smith)

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Album Review

Nico was little more than an afterthought in the world of music when she died in Ibiza, Spain in 1988. Her performances on the Velvet Underground's debut album were all most music followers knew of her, and her solo works, never embraced by a large audience, were mostly out of print. Nico's final recordings testified to the toll drug abuse had taken upon her body and her muse, and when a bicycle accident claimed her on a sweltering July day, it attracted little notice. Nearly three decades later, the music and performance art group Soundwalk Collective have given Nico a moving and belated memorial with Killer Road, a 2016 album documenting a performance piece the group debuted in 2014. For Killer Road, Soundwalk Collective are joined by guest musician Jesse Paris Smith, who adds singing bowls and acoustic resonant instruments to the mix, while Jesse's mother, the noted singer, poet, and author Patti Smith, delivers vocals inspired by poetry Nico wrote in the late stages of her life. (While press materials confirm the text came directly from Nico's work, she is curiously not mentioned in the album's writing credits.) Jesse Paris Smith and Soundwalk Collective members Stephan Crasneanscki, Simone Merli, and Kamran Sadeghi have conjured coolly effective sonic backdrops for this piece. Incorporating ambient electronic soundscapes that include the organic sounds of crickets (plentiful during summers in Ibiza) and harmoniums (the small, hand-pumped organ that Nico used to accompany herself on-stage), the music is filled with both beauty and menace. But what really makes this work as an album is Patti Smith's performance; though she's reading and not singing, her voice still has a subtly musical quality that rides above the surfaces of the music, and she brings a warmth and life to this music even when she's whispering as Nico's spark is about to flicker away. If Soundwalk Collective's music is often lovely but understated, Patti Smith's vocals give Killer Road the pale fire that makes it come alive; she never sounds like Nico, but she ably brings forth the voice of a poet facing her final crisis, and Smith understands that just well enough to communicate it to the audience.


Genre: Electronic

Narrowing the gap between music and performance art, Soundwalk Collective is an ensemble that creates recordings, performance pieces, and installations based on diverse thematic elements. Soundwalk Collective was founded in 2000 by Stephan Crasneanscki, an artist born in the Ukraine who now lives in New York City, where he works with collaborators Simone Merli and Kamran Sadeghi. The Collective members describe their work as combining elements of "nature, anthropology, ethnography, non-linear narratives,...
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Killer Road (feat. Patti Smith), Soundwalk Collective
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