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Nightmares on Wax
Shout Out! To Freedom… Liam Inscoe-Jones , November 8th, 2021 08:50

Sliding into middle-age, Nightmares on Wax hits upon a hot streak – aided and abetted by the considerable talents of Greentea Peng, OSHUN, Haile Supreme, and Shabaka Hutchings

At fifty-one years-old, Leeds-born George Evelyn has now been releasing trip-hop and techno records as Nightmares on Wax for thirty whole years. Influenced at first by the b-boy and rap scene of his home city, he was an early signee to Warp Records and soon became a key figure in their glitchy rise to dominance. But while Aphex Twin and Autechre pursued more challenging and propulsive sounds, Evelyn plunged towards far warmer territory. With records like 1999’s Carboot Soul, a nostalgic, crate-digging soundtrack to many a toke, he became a legend in the downtempo scene to follow.

As anyone who’s dabbled in a ten hour Lo-Fi-Beats-To-Study-To mix on YouTube knows, music which is laidback to the point of sedation can feel blissful and utterly inconsequential in equal measure. Even a craftsman like Evelyn began the last decade somewhat drifting, releasing albums which sounded soothing to the point of snoozing. But it’s a joy to announce that Nightmares On Wax is on something of a hot-streak. It began with 2019’s Shape The Future where he adopted the Avalanches-Gorillaz approach of bringing in a gamut of guest-singers and MCs, a formula he returns to with even greater success here.

The press which has surrounded this latest album emphasises that it was made by a rejuvenated creator. For him, the pandemic came at the end of ten years of relentless touring and a cancer scare. Like many people, the 2020 lockdowns brought Evelyn a chance for pause and self-reflection. He began writing with the focus of a man working on his final testament. The album which came from those sessions does indeed sound like one made by an artist deeply engaging and in love with his own music again. Frankly, Shout Out! To Freedom.... is a joy to listen to, packed as it is with warm tones, a boat-load of guest-stars, and an eclectic sound which dips between dub, rap, and house.

The guest stars certainly help keep the mellow vibe consistently fresh, from the deep-voiced neo-soul of OSHUN to the repeated presence of New York roots-reggae artist Haile Supreme, who brings the ghost of Curtis Mayfield to closer ‘Up To Us’. Less a lockdown record and more a post-lockdown record, various lyricists return to themes of freedom – physical and otherwise. Singing about 5G and fluoride in the water, buzzy Londoner Greentea Peng skirts around questionably conspiratorial themes on ‘Wikid Satellites’, but the sound of her voice is such a harmonious match for Evelyn’s horns and pianos that, together, they even make libertarianism sound sexy.

The star of the show though is London saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, who totally hijacks ‘3D Warrior’ with a subterranean groove which turns the album briefly into a Comet Is Coming LP. That’s not to diminish the skills of Evelyn though, who is still more than capable of bringing the goods without assistance, as he shows on early highlight ‘Imagineering’, a track which takes you on a journey straight to the Cuba of Buena Vista Social Club, but hands you a couple of brownies for the trip.

The song and the whole album are testament to the fact that – even with largely-instrumental, crate-digging music – when the creator is making their songs with a smile, you’ll feel it. Oh, you’ll feel it.