It’s a miracle or something like it that John Cale is still alive, let alone still making music this compelling. Like many of his peers, the Velvet Underground co-founder drank and drugged through the ’60s and ’70s while still creating and producing landmark works. By the ’80s, his addictions took over. Fathering a child shocked him into sobriety, but at 70, he’s still releasing hallucinatory sounds. On his 15th solo album, the Wales-born, Los Angeles based multi-instrumentalist applies his conservatory training to create melodically and harmonically vigorous songs, while his experimental skills throw wrenches in their abundant beauty.
Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood merges the relatively lighthearted chillout pop of 2003′s HoboSapiens with the moodier art-rock of 2005′s blackAcetate. Cale hasn’t lost his interest in electronics-enabled genre bending: The first track, “I Wanna Talk 2 U,” opens with a simple acoustic guitar, but soon adds the bass, beats and synth of Danger Mouse to split the difference between post-punk and fractured funk. What follows similarly resists pigeonholing: “Scotland Yard” is on the surface relatively straightforward rock, but below there’s plenty of dissonant grinding and droning. “Hemmingway” recalls his menacing proto-punk work on mid ’70s albums like Fear, but with contemporary production. Gentler tracks like “Face to the Sky,” “December Rains,” and “Mary” feature AutoTune, not necessarily to put Cale’s septuagenarian rasp in perfect pitch, but to further estrange it with uneasy, unsettling results akin to a subtler Tom Waits jamming with the Knife. That sums up these Shifty Adventures.