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Nightmares on Wax

Thought So...

(Warp; US: 2 Sep 2008; UK: 25 Aug 2008)

The title behind Smoker’s Delight, Nightmares on Wax’s sophomore release, is pretty self-explanatory, but in 1995, it was a surprising change of pace after the bleep and bass flirtations of A Word of Science, Nightmares on Wax’s techno-soul debut.  With far less reliance on synthesizers in favor of smokey, earthy double basses and soulful vocal samples, Delight was a rebirth of sorts for George Evelyn. And, in contrast to the outta-this-world explorations of other acts on Warp at the time (1993 and 1994 being the years of the ambient techno Artifical Intelligence series), Nightmares on Wax was gazing at the stars, but grounded in an effortless terrestrial cool. So, Delight was a divergent restatement of Evelyn’s intent, much like I expect the artist’s next album will be.


See, Thought So… is an album about transition. Written while Evelyn was busy moving from Leeds to Ibiza, the Spanish island haven for superclubs and sun, Thought shows the beginning stages of the Balearic influence on Nightmares on Wax. In a Space Outta Sound (2006) was a criminally underrated pastiche of funky horn stabs and jazzy breaks and bass, the sound of a tight dubby fusion combo playing in a smokey, ill-lit club. On Thought, Evelyn has emerged from the club to a sunny day. For better or worse, there’s nothing all that emotionally heavy here, certainly not like previous classics “I Am You” (from Sound) or “Finer” (from 1999’s Carboot Soul). Instead, much of Thought passes by like a lazy Sunday morning, enjoyably floating by, if not so memorable. 


First single “195lbs” is representative of the strengths and weaknesses of this new record. Over a reggae-lite beat, and accentuated by trickling synths, a singer toasts about his sound, and the feelings it inspires. It’s enjoyable, but not necessarily compelling, and there’s barely any change in the repetitions of the instrumentation, dropping every one of his parts within the first of its five and a half minutes. Elsewhere, “Be There” repeats this formula, taking a decently enjoyable hopping beat, and some sort of lyrics about “being there”, then rinsing and repeating on autopilot for a few minutes too long. Ironically appropriate for a record made on the road, Thought is stuttered with passages that adopt the tediousness and exhaustion of the slow parts of a road trip. 


At the same time, Evelyn is too much of a beat maestro to ever make a bad album. The drippy neo-soul and burning wah-guitar on “Moretime” are prime Nightmares on Wax, featuring the some vocals that really punch at the listener, delivered by a scratchy diva.  The trembly synths on “Pretty Dark” show that there’s still a piece of A Word of Science-era Nightmares on Wax left in Evelyn, while the graceful strings and ascending electric piano on “Calling” hark back to the variations of “Nights Intro”, the Quincy Jones-sampling track that begun the first three releases. On “Calling”, the updated location once again shows itself, through the breezy bongos and smiling steel drums laced throughout the fabric of the otherwise-downbeat number. On “Bringin It”, all players involve sound invigorated, as though the short guitar skanks are scrimmaging with the raspy singers and deep bass. 


Listening to Thought So…, it’s clear that Evelyn has been recharged by moving to the Balears, but he’s got a better recording of these surroundings in him. “Da Feelin”, the first and best song on the album, is a perfect jam for sunny beaches, with organs and funky handclaps and lyrics that are simple –- “the feeling is real and there’s love” –- but no less enjoyable. It’s a promising sign of where the next output from Nightmares on Wax is likely to go, once Evelyn’s eyes adjust to the sun. In the mean time, there’s some summertime gold spaced out here.

Rating:

David Abravanel is based physically in Brooklyn, NY, cosmically linked to Portland, OR and based metaphysically in the Dreamtime.


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