Nightmares On Wax – Feelin’ Good
Nightmares On Wax. Surely a name to warm the heart of many a beat-head, and recognisable to even a casual 30+ listener, thanks to his appearances on many a Chill Out compilation. He’s well-known for his atmospheric Soul infused downtempo beats, in fact he was massively influential in the evolution of Beats as a whole, right from its nascent pre-Trip Hop beginnings. Enlisting Sebastian Studnitzky from Jazzanova for some epic strings, and Wolfgang Haffner to lay down some jazzy drums, his latest effort sees him in a playful mood. Whilst its impossible to compare it to some of his earlier works, it stands up on its own as a well imagined and executed, engaging slice of happy-go-lucky beats of the highest order.
Often associated with peak era NinjaTunes and Mo’ Wax, NoW in fact released instead on equally influential imprint Warp, and is its longest serving artist. NoW began in 1985, in Leeds, UK, as a duo, comprised of George Evelyn and John Halnon, who made way for Kevin “Boy Wonder” Harper, who then, after their debut album, 1991’s, A Word of Science: The First and Final Chapter, left to pursue a DJ career. In his wake George drafted in keyboard player Robin Taylor-Firth, and set about defining smoky downtempo soulful beats, releasing seminal albums Smokers Delight (1995) and Carboot Soul (1999), the latter spawning legendary chill out staples like ‘Finer’ and the classical music infused ‘Les Nuits.’
From there he released another well received album on Warp, 2002’s Mind Elevation, with the classic singles ’70s 80s’
and ‘Know My Name,’ as well as many great remixes, and two epic mixtape compilations, his DJ-Kicks and Late Night Tales setting the standard for both of those series’, before branching out on his own, forming his own label, Wax On Records. Resisting the Dubstep route many of his contemporaries took, he dropped a couple more tasteful long players in 2006’s In a Space Outta Sound and Thought So… (2008) on Warp, and in 2009 put together a Coming Home compilation for Stereo Deluxe, all of which showcased his broadness of taste and lightness of touch, chock full of beatsy goodness. As a label manager he released a trio of excellent label compilations, as well as several singles and EPs, and long players from Negghead, Gelka, The Deadbeats, The Planty Herbs, and my personal favourite album of the last 5 years, Guts‘ Le Bienheureux (2008), which, to my ears, seems an influence on this release, with similar playfulness and looseness infusing it.
Currently an Ibiza local, the relaxed island vibes seem to have done him good, as with this release we find him in fine fettle, Feelin’ Good well and truly living up to its name. Its a mellow trip through a variety of flavours, from jazzy bits to gritty funk to afrobeat/dub, all executed with cheeky low swung grooves. To borrow a phrase that was once used to describe my father, it’s laid back to the point of falling over.
Whether they were played or sampled, it’s mostly made up of live instrumentation, with his strings, horns, pianos, double basses, guitars all being utilised to good effect, and that’s just the first song, ‘So Here We Are,’ which is a typical NoW composition, moving along in its understated way, subtly shifting melodies floating along, with a bonus horn solo.
Next up is ‘Be, I Do’ with a nice shuffling groove as well as some choice vocal samples, a feature of the whole album. It sets up the irresistible mood of the album, it’s infectious groove and catchy vocal snatches leaving a lasting impression.
Third out of the gate is ‘Master Plan,’ which is all loping grooves and gorgeous female vocals. If you listen close, there are a lot of elements at play, but somehow the become an amorphous whole, subtly enmeshing together to create a spectacular sonic soup.
‘Luna 2’ with Wolfgang Haffner is probably my least favourite, it’s a bit more straight up Jazzy Beats, and could pass for Ronny Jordan, US3 or Jazzanova. That said, it features a cool Afrobeat type vocal, and the shimmering guitar and Rhodes licks are pretty damn spot on. It just doesn’t quite grab me as much as the other tunes, and it’s probably down to the 4/4 backbeat which lacks the quirkiness of the other’s.
‘Now Is The Time’ is all quirkiness! One of its main elements sounds like a wobbleboard, used to perfection. Stuttering keys and pianos, simple yet effective bass notes, rolling percussion and a “cool and deadly” Reggae vocal complete the picture. It’s probably my fave tune on the album, sounding akin to something from the Bastard Jazz catalogue.
‘Give Thnx’ is vintage NoW flavoured soul, with a plaintive vocal, subtle instrumentation, heavy on the downstroke, and a nice backbeat. Solid stuff.
‘Eye (Can’t See)’ and ‘Tapestry’ are the uptempo DJ tools of the album. The former features some cool chopped vox, with a horny, percussive beat that thumps along, not one of my faves, but no doubt, it’d rock a dancefloor, as would the latter which is all about the slowly evolving groove. Peeling back and adding layers through the song, it reaches its peak then dissipates into a cool spoken word outro.
The penultimate number ‘There4u’ utilises harmonics and half tones to a good effect, with melodies slowly unfolding through the song, slow strings counterpointing the almost percussive tones. A repeated “there for you” vocal motif adds to the hypnotic feel.
The closer ‘Om Sweet H(om)e’ also somewhat hypnotic, with a Boogie backbeat providing the bed for lush pads, throat singing, “om”s, and various cascading bell tones and chimes.
So all in all, yet another stellar outing from a certified legend, seeing him continue maintain his own sound, well away from the current hot sounds, yet also subtly mixing in some fresh elements and moods. It’s an evolution from his previous outing Thought So… with a distinct whimsical mood pervading the whole album. The beat structures are very cool too, giving it a unique feel when compared to much of todays post James Blake postpost chillwave postpostpost Dubstep production stylings. For me it can’t go wrong, simply because it sounds a lot like my favorite producer, Guts, crossed with my favourite record label, Bastard Jazz. Its just so carefree feeling that it can’t help but improve your mood! Easy does it.
Some Wax On releases;