Music Reviews

Nightmares On Wax

Mind Elevation

Warp

Mind Elevation opens with “Mind Eye,” offering menacing beats and some of the most infectious loops in recent memory, thus laying the blueprint for the rest of the album. By no means is this to suggest that Nightmares On Wax’s (N.O.W.) new album is formulaic. Instead it is the deconstruction of form and the desire to constantly reinvent one’s craft that is so engaging here. Throughout, downtempo beats resonate against lush orchestral instrumentation drawing the listener deep into a seemingly intangible universe. It is not just about beats and loops, however. At times there is a worldly sensibility that compliments N.O.W.’s impalpable production. “Bleu My Mind” makes eloquent use of Spanish guitar chords, while “BBH (Bongo-Brk-Haven)” uses distinctively African drum patterns. Vocal performances bring another level to their abstruse soundscape. “Date With Destiny” is the first of several vocal tracks to grace the album. Admittedly, with an somewhat trite hook that lacks profundity (“It’s all right/Time’s on your side/So don’t let it bring you down”), this song’s lyrics seem more appropriate on the soundtrack of a Nickelodeon cartoon. The intrinsic nature of the hook is to merely ensnare the listener, and what is lost in lyrical complexity is compensated for with Chyna B’s ethereal vocal textures sung over soulful rhythms. “70s 80s,” featuring the mellifluous flow of LSK, proffers a history lesson in British history and popular culture when that “wicked witch was in power.” As the album’s title suggests, there is a kind of edutainment (to borrow from KRS-One) going on. Beginning with the skinhead revival, and the Two Tone ska that ensued (intimated by the seamless insertion of ska guitar riffs), and ending with the birth of hip hop, this meditation of a “’70s baby, early ’80s child/Reminiscing about the days” is a celebration of the richness of British culture to emerge despite the pervasive desperation and oppression under Thatcher. With so much contemporary music being utter schlock, “70s 80s” causes one to long for the past – of course, without the despotism and social decay of Thatcher’s Britain.

N.O.W. has been responsible for some of the most insinuating beats and rhythms of the past decade, or so. Their versatility and facility of form (whether it be collaborating with De La Soul on the Music Of Now EP or offering soul inflected stylings on Carboot Soul and Mind Elevation) are refreshing at a time when most “electronica” (whatever the hell that now encompasses) is derivative and banal. What makes their approach unique is their ability to negotiate the fissures between New York trip hop and house, Detroit techno and British rave, creating something entirely new while their contemporaries simply regurgitate what has already been done. As Mind Elevation avows, this is very much welcomed.

Warp Records: http://www.warprecords.com


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