Scout Niblett - "The Calcination of Scout Niblett" (The Calcination of Scout Niblett)
Jon Pitt does an exceedingly accurate job of describing the core of Scout Niblett’s aesthetic in his review of 2005’s Kidnapped by Neptune. The quiet/loud dynamic and the Nirvana/grunge influence are fundamental to her last few albums, so much so that one might remark that there is little difference to be had between Kidnapped, 2007’s This Fool Can Die Now and her most recent, The Calcination of Scout Niblett. What makes Niblett interesting, though, is the way these outdated strategies (grunge hasn’t been popular in the aughts at all and is hardly rife for a comeback at this point) are merely a facet of her work, and the way in which they are tempered by other elements to create something wholly new.
It’s tough not to listen to Calcination without hearing decade’s old echoes – Bleach especially – but at the same time, these are merely reminders or remnants and not merely tools of pastiche. The music itself possesses a clarity – a clarity that grunge fights hard against. So wrapped up in Niblett’s work is already a tension between the this clarity – a kind of unambiguousness – and what she imports from her influences. Her voice complements this clarity. It is strong and full, a traditional voice arising from folk. These echoes though aren’t merely the reverberation of the American neo-folk movement, but echo back to Niblett’s British roots.
There is also a tension in Calcination as well between the loud/soft dynamic and the consistency of the album’s tone. Pitt, in his review, mentions that Albini’s production, “juxtaposes the quiet and the loud, embracing a bipolarism that repeatedly interrupts, jars and startles the listener to attention.” However, what’s masterful about Calcination is that through the changing dynamic, there is a remarkably steady tone. That which might be jarring in another context, calling attention to itself and pulling the listener out of the moment, is here a natural part of the music. It can’t startle because it doesn’t seem out of place.
Calcination itself is a process of heating something in order to break it down; there may be the idea of process in Calcination, of dynamics, but the steadiness of the tone gives the illusion of stillness. It takes an incredibly steady hand and a reservoir of patience to pull off this tone, but delightfully, still below the surface is that tension. There are these competing moments in her music then, and it is the way they compete that makes her aesthetic unique and beautiful.