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Nightmares on Wax - Thought So...

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Artist: Nightmares on Wax

Album: Thought So...

Label: Warp

Review date: Sep. 18, 2008

Much like myself, I suspect a fair few people still listen to Nightmares On Wax as a gesture of goodwill. Seventeen years on from their awesomely cold, cavernous bleep singles “Dextrous” and “Aftermath,” Nightmares On Wax (now helmed solely by George Evelyn) have traded the anxious energy of the warehouse rave for spliffed-out, retiree downtempo, and Evelyn’s production schtick is now cast in stone – find a laidback loop, dial through its key points with the odd filter, and let it roll for five minutes. Which means that if you’re tuning in on faith, you’ll admire the skill involved, the loveliness of some of Evelyn’s sounds, but you’ll also end up nodding off, supine, drowned in ‘good taste.’ For all its surface charm, there’s something unpleasantly prosaic about parts of Thought So… that its creation story (a road-trip relocation from Leeds to Ibiza) can’t cover.

It’s not all about expectations. The first half of Thought So… simply fails to connect, refuses to dislodge its head from its downward bob. It’s all pleasant, easy, and largely uninspired. The reggae skank of “195lbs” feels leaden, while the itching riff that propels “Be There” runs out of energy after a while. Part of the problem lies with the vocals, which lack any real grain – their ‘soulfulness’ feels uninspired, slapped on top of the songs, and the deejay delivery is pro-forma. More pernicious is the lack of energy in songs like “Be There,” which means they underplay their potential strengths. In less laidback hands, “Be There”’s riff could have been compulsive, compelling, truly economical (as opposed to simply ‘spare’).

All of which makes the sudden upswing in Thought So…, around the halfway mark, rather welcome. The strings on “Calling” drown in sobs of melancholy, moving in wraithlike fashion. That they go nowhere means Evelyn’s still not working at full capacity, but they’re lovely, which is an improvement on the first half’s ambivalence. “Moretime” is better still, working through a soul/funk riff that prudently punches in and out of the song, and “Still? Yes!” finally makes good on the failed reggae promises of the record’s opening tracks.

Even after these relative highlights, though, Thought So… feels too uncommitted, too dulled. It’s not exactly lazy, and it’s not quite bored, though often it’s quite boring. I guess Evelyn’s found the thing he wants to do, and he ain’t changing it for anyone. Which is alright, but don’t you wish his music somehow felt relevant again – as though head-nodding wasn’t all that mattered?

By Jon Dale

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