Leeds DJ, producer and composer George Evelyn, aka Nightmares On Wax, returns to long-time label Warp Records with an LP which bravely encompasses everything from reggae, dub, soul and rap, while transmitting some powerful messages.
Shape the Future begins on a profound note: opener “Back to Nature” wrestles with the notion of universal connectivity. The track features the spoken word of Kuauhtli Vasquez, a member of the Wixarika Tribe, who encourages the listener to consider that “all humans share one consciousness, but yet they wanna be separated… they don’t realise all humans share a pool of consciousness.” In its composition, the track has a quintessentially, soulful Nightmares On Wax feel, with the introduction of the Wixarika tribe, indigenous to the Sierra Madre Occidental, who sing in the native language of Huichol, the track becomes truly captivating, leaving us with an uplifting call for unity for the benefit Mother Earth.
Undoubtedly, Evelyn has become a master of producing soulful, groove-filled trip hop. Yet in some parts of Shape the Future, the space-age sounds that feature don’t quite fit. “On it Maestro” contains wonderful, organic piano licks against a simple backbeat, yet the inclusion of extra-terrestrial noise is slightly jarring. Similarly, “Shape the Future” is difficult to categorise, but not necessarily in a positive way. Shape the Future as an LP is incredibly versatile, yet there seems to be too much crammed into the title track.
It is perhaps the tracks which remain faithful to one genre that are the LP’s strongest. The album shifts towards the murky expanses of dub in “Tomorrow (feat. RSK), while “Typical (feat. Jordan Rakei)” feels like an old lost soul number, modernised by Nightmares on Wax’s signature touch. Steering things back in the direction of reggae, “Deep Shadows (feat. Sadie Walker)” is a cover of the Little Ann original, and one of the standout moments on the record. On Instagram, Evelyn revealed: “In the final stages of recording I felt I needed some female energy injected...The track is an insight into the undeniable effect love has.” The potency of the track is only enhanced by a listen to the original, returning to the profound tone on which the album started.
Towards the tail end of Shape the Future, Evelyn even includes a slightly latin vibe in the heavy “Gotta Smile”, the one track which could easily slide into the latter part of a Nightmares on Wax DJ set, where Evelyn is perhaps at his most enthralling. Overall, this is an impressively diverse set of tracks, Evelyn has demonstrated his capability of working in a myriad of genres with a number of collaborators, yet in its entirety, the record feels slightly lost.