Nightmares on Wax Has Environmental and Spiritual Concerns on 'Shape the Future'

Photo courtesy of Warp Records

Nightmares on Wax perfects the blend of live instruments and digital wizardry on his strongest album in years.

Shape the Future
Nightmares on Wax


26 Jan 2018

To achieve longevity in music you need many things but if you want to stay relevant, it boils down to two - growth and invention. For over 25 years, Leeds-born George Evelyn, aka the main man behind Nightmares on Wax, has expanded his sound from the studio-based electronics of a Word of Science: the 1st & Final Chapter, to a live sounding, multiple instrument affair that explores everything and anything from dub and hip-hop to funk, soul and R&B. This desire to stretch and expand his signature sound continues on new album Shape the Future.

Musically, the album furthers the studio band vibe of Feelin Good. While that album had its stand out moments, Shape the Future feels much more cohesive and more confident. It sounds as if N.O.W is more comfortable and adept at utilizing the opportunities afforded by using live instruments which has, in turn, enabled him to refine the mix of producer-led, digital sounds and organic instrumentation.

Thematically, there is a clear thread running through the album which unifies the material despite the variety of styles on show. The album is very much concerned with the ecological, environmental and spiritual aspects of the world in which we live and invites the listener to reflect on their relationship with nature and others around them.

"Back to Nature" epitomises this idea. Over an ambient dub backing with light reggae touches, Kuauhtli Vasquez ruminates over our, often, destructive relationship with nature. The subject matter feels especially prescient as Vasquez urges human beings to take more responsibility for their actions as well as highlighting how imperative it is for humanity to have a healthier, quid pro quo relationship with nature. It's an affecting opener that invites the listener to contemplate but thankfully avoids sounding sanctimonious or overly preachy.

"Tell My Vision" is a more uptempo slice of contemporary R&B, centering on a typically inventive, shuffling beat and featuring the smooth as silk, soul vocals of Andrew Ashong. The grittier, street sounding title track keeps the album rolling along nicely as it weaves in layers of sumptuous strings with a rumbling, clipped beat and persistent piano motif. It's a prime example of how N.O.W's sound has developed on this album, sounding fuller and richer than ever before. Similarly, the chillout, slow burn of "On It Maestro" with its incessantly whistle-able hook provides a further reminder, as if one was needed, of why N.O.W is a master of bringing background music to the foreground.

The towering dub of "Tomorrow" might be a throwback to his earlier work, but it's propelled right into the here and now by the layers of beats, synths and a monolithic bassline that would sound monumental booming from a sound system at a sun-drenched festival. The richness and warmth accentuated by the use of live instrumentation continue on "Typical". It's a masterclass in production as N.O.W provide a swinging groove for Jordan Rakai's effortlessly soulful vocals to bed down on.

"Tenor Fly" is more reminiscent of the warped dub sounds of In a Space Outta Sound but again invites the listener to consider the important things in life and our relationships with others. "Citizen Kane" is the album in microcosm. A nimble, free-flowing slice of classic sounding soul with a funky, hip-hop edge. Featuring vocals from former Zero 7 contributor, Mozez, it's a consummate example of production know how, as he balances orchestration, live drums and studio wizardry to stunning effect. Of the other songs on the album "Gotta Smile" is a classic, sashaying N.O.W party tune replete with Calypso rhythms while "Deep Shadows" tips its hat to Lauryn Hill with its deep funk groove and vocals from Sadie Walker.

Shape the Future is easily N.O.W's strongest and most cohesive album since the imperious In a Space Outta Sound. However, it's entirely its own thing and perfects the blend between digital and the organic sounds superbly. It's an album that doesn't chase any current trends nor try to emulate what they've have done before. N.O.W has successfully found a way to grow and invent but also stay true to his core ideals. It looks like he'll be around for a good while yet.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.