The best parties all have soundtracks and invariably, at some point, the frivolities will feature a band who play something so chilled out and achingly soulful that you might well struggle to identify them. Ask enough times what that band is and there’s a good chance you’ll discover it to be Nightmares On Wax.
Since the early 90s, NOW project mastermind George Evelyn has been taking his band on the road and steadily feeding us album after album of solid downtempo gold. These days, he’s a busy man (Evelyn is a label owner, a consultant and a producer) so it’s no surprise that this latest record, Feelin’ Good, represents his first full body of work in five years.
Evelyn, of course, has never really set out to write a complete song; one with a beginning, middle and end. He’s always been more of a scene-setter, a mood-creator, so it matters little that his music loops back on itself again and again. Think of his writing as more of a set of slowly evolving emotions and you’ll begin to appreciate the qualities that lurk within each of Feelin’ Good‘s evocative, phasing beats. Long gone are those harsh cuts that crafted the staggering journey of his first few albums, now it’s all about absorbing the vibe. He’s whisked us away from the dancefloor and firmly embedded us in the chillout zone, riding that cyclical, percussive wave to its inevitable mesmeric climax.
The concept of making music in the sun is something that Evelyn is clearly loving – “Not to take away from any of my previous music but Feelin’ Good is what I’ve always been trying to do.” To this end, Evelyn has collaborated with old friends and sourced intelligently from others. For instance, the orchestration and strings were created in Berlin by Jazzanova arranger Sebastian Studnitzky and the drum patterns come courtesy of “virtuoso German jazz percussionist” Wolfgang Haffner. One run-through of opening track ‘So Here We Are’ should be enough to win you over. Like a refined mix of Carboot Soul‘s ‘Jorgé’ it ripples with soft, interweaving trumpets and strings – you can almost hear the waves rhythmically lapping at the shore and feel the heat of the sun under which this was brewed.
Digging deeper, you’ll uncover the joys of a warbling, soft shoe shuffle (‘Be, I Do’), a strong jazzy Earl Klugh-esque vibe (‘Luna 2′), and some funky rocksteady (‘Now Is The Time’). There’s also ‘Eye (Can’t See)’ to digest – a strong, incandecent number, curiously reminiscent of The Herbaliser and even Bombay Monkey, which is layered to the gills and drives on through its varied breaks and affectations. These together, offer a perfect range of differently-paced and smartly-presented numbers that all cycle and fade. They’re tonal pieces that will define the moods of our party-goers; the ones they will drink in. Naturally, they form the album’s bedrock moments.
Inevitably, there is some anomalous filler to contend with. We get the sore thumb of ‘Give Thx’ plonking itself down, crooning away like some dull Motown boy band, and ‘Tapestry’ which offers up a pointless instrumental with 80s tones and a weird knocking that, first time round, will trick you into getting up to answer the door. To counter these, there are a couple of smart surprises in ‘Masterplan’ and the ‘Om Sweet H(Om)e’. The former sees Californian folk singer Katy Gray pop up with a touch of fragile trip-hop to complement some sumptuous, embedded violins that bring a subtle sway to proceedings and gift it with a sweet Bond-ian motif. The latter is an odd, 7-minute ayurvedic wash that features Evelyn and Shovel (M People) chanting “Om” at us in the style of Tibetan monks.
It is all about the journey with NOW albums and this one’s natural end does come with the ultimate party comedown – where did it say on the Feelin’ Good tin about that one? Also, no matter how pleasant the rest of the package may seem, this journey doesn’t really take you to any wildly interesting places either. Happily, the smoothness of the ride, a far cry from the sharp techno apexes and sudden hip-hop divots of debut A Word Of Science, does mean it’s certainly an album with a beautiful flow to it and that is essential in this blissful chillout zone of theirs. These may just be a series of outlines essentially, but we, the audience, are the ones who must ultimately fill in our own colours. Once more, Nightmares On Wax provide the backing music to the party; once more, your enjoyment is only limited by your own imagination.