Music

Nicolay: Here

On his debut album, Dutch producer Nicolay finds a healthy balance between emotions and music, relaying romanticism in every track.


Nicolay

Here

Label: BBE Records
US Release Date: 2006-09-01
UK Release Date: 2006-09-18
Amazon
iTunes

In 2004, The Foreign Exchange, consisting of North Carolina emcee Phonte and Dutch producer Nicolay, delivered the highly sensual Connected, an album that matched introspective lyricism with beats that defied simplicity. Fashioned through an Internet medium, Connected was based on more than just a solid idea; the tracks represented a true chemistry, as the album moved with the sweeping emotions of a '70s soul record re-contextualized into a modern hip-hop sound. Phonte, then known for his work with Little Brother, was ideally categorized as the backpacking type: wholly expressive and witty, yet accessible and jaunty. His beatmaking counterpart possessed what was needed to smooth the record into a gorgeous plane: musical emotiveness and vulnerability. As a result, Connected was an injection of non-portentous hip-hop whose freshness emanated through the clouds of forgettable underground nothings.

With Phonte diddling with his collective Little Brother, Nicolay subsequently took the plunge of independence by releasing instrumental mixtapes that spotlighted the man behind the boards. It became apparent that Nicolay's musical style was that of his own -- not a mere duplication or mirroring of related peers 9th Wonder and Khrysis -- and with each release, his sound flourished as he began to experiment with craftier sample manipulation and develop an even lusher sound, signifying a pseudo-hip-hop adolescence. The release of his third and newest album, Here, marks Nicolay as past the age of puerile transformation, as his record represents the most mature and unsure thematic of them all: romanticism. Though brief in duration, Here represents this theme with ladles of thick and beautifully relaxed melodies, alternating between compelling instrumentals and a weighty assortment of guest appearances.

On the instrumental tracks, Nicolay echoes his heartening sentiment as he varyingly approaches expression in different forms. The album is framed around the sappy tracks "Here (Intro)" and "Here (Outro)", two tracks of the same instrumental, and while he may be overambitious to repeat the piece at the beginning and end of the record, it unexpectedly serves its intended purpose of providing both introduction and closure. "Here" plays as a glistening studio instrumental of slightly corny proportions, pulsing with a glistening piano and breathy pipe melody. At the beginning of the record, it plays as a mood relaxant to assuage the listener for what follows. But as the record nears completion, the track shifts in intent as it provides the same sense of comfort and security as that of fresh romance, with the warmth of the flute and crash of the piano serving as a breath of blissful naiveté and hopeless optimism.

The other two instrumentals on the album, "Give Her Everything" and "Let It Shine for Me", string the thread of romanticism in different ways. On the fantastic latter, Nicolay creates a bewitching melody consisting of unresolved piano progression, acoustic guitar and a deep vocal sample of an old man's croons, which goes so far as to suggest that love can extend past its ripe age of youth and still possess its initial vitality. Unfortunately, the former instrumental "Give Her Everything" is crotchety and crass, with its minor musical foundation built on a warm piano riff. The downside of the track is its remarkably out-of-context vocal clip, which takes the album away from its hip-hop core and mixes in a pale and under-contemplated tinge of hard rock. While the clip keeps romanticism at a constant with the lyrics "I'll give her everything / I'd buy her diamond rings", the searing vocal inflections shape the track as an annoyance, rather than have its potential cultivated as a bubbling groove.

Nicolay has a tendency to dot his instrumentals with affecting vocal samples, but he digresses from this style as Here is assisted by a bevy of original guest appearances, all of whom complement Nicolay's loops with their own musical animation. Black Spade, a St. Louis rapper (and fellow beatsmith), is a recurring go-to, as he treats three of the album's 11 tracks with socially conscious rhymes. Of the more memorable, "The End Is Near", a grungy track suitable for a cinematic sunset ride-out, features Black Spade lightheartedly rapping "Haters hope I blow so they can not stand me / Cause I'm sick James, bitch / And not Rick James / Hand to the face, slap a nigga out his name." Although Spade's presence may be too prevalent for a disc meant to spotlight Nicolay, the rest of the guests make tidy and wonderful appearances on the other tracks. The throbbing piano-cum-horn blast "What It Used to Be" features Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa, who lyrically plays with an entrancing vocal sample, while Foreign Exchange associate Yahzarah closes the record on the bopping soul romp "Adore". On the track, Yahzarah sings with burning ferocity, blasting lyrics that appropriately tie in romanticism like "Love doesn't happen to folks like me / I was used to tragedy / Never thought love would come catch me."

Yahzarah may be speaking for herself, but seems to share the same impassioned integrity that Nicolay attempts to relay throughout all of Here. Nicolay has tastefully managed to convey his love through (and, quite aptly, of) music by combining swirling instrumentation and inherent emotion in every track on the album. Although Nicolay could have taken the opportunity to spotlight more of his own merits and spare the disc from overabundant guest appearances, Here leaves the listener with an impact as two-sided as its recurring bookends instrumental: either a shared sense of Nicolay's tender feelings or a smug sense of comfort, knowing that he has finally found the most successful way to unite his emotions and musical ambitions.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image