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Song-by-Song: Casually Here – ‘Kept’ (Algebra)

London-based producer Nic Nell has already provided a wealth of different sounds in his roles as one-half of pop duo Rainer and the Young Colossus project (a partnership with Orlando Weeks of The Maccabees).  He’s also collaborated with the likes of Brolin and Alessi’s Ark, as well as scoring films for BBC and Channel 4. Despite all this, some of his most captivating work to date comes in the form of his solo alias, Casually Here, which sees Nell construct immersive ambience alongside disjointed percussion.

The first Casually Here release since his 2011 debut EP, ‘Kept’, was self-released by Nell on his new Algebra imprint last month and is available as a free download and in green vinyl on his website. The LP explores ‘nocturnal subterranean’ soundscapes; perfect headphone fodder for late night journeys home. Get lost in the video for ‘Walk’, a disorienting voyage through the back streets of Walworth in South London, and you get an idea of the kind of atmosphere Nell conjures throughout this enchanting record. Nell was on hand to talk us through the stories, inspiration and processes behind each of its 13 tracks. Stream the album in full below and read on for commentary on ‘Kept’…

1. ‘ODE 2’ 

‘Ode 2’ is one of my favourites and it sort of informed the rest of the record – as soon as I wrote it I knew it was going to be on the album… and hence I was making an album. It was originally called ‘Joy’ but there’s another track on the record with the same name so I changed the name to ‘Ode 2’ in reference to the Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy’ as a bit of a joke – the 2 makes it sound like a sequel so I might have to make a retrospective ‘Ode 1’ at some point. I’d originally planned for it to be about 7 minutes long and building to something you could actually dance to, but after a lot of playing it sat better at the 2 minute mark. There are actually some really nice vocals that Orlando Weeks (Young Colossus collaborator/The Maccabees) did on it that I didn’t end up using, so maybe someday I’ll revisit it and get the longer version to work. I like the patience of it taking a minute before the snares come in and using the vocal samples as both percussion and melody.

2. ‘Slow Down’

‘Slow Down’ is all about the atmosphere and the pushing of the timings of the glitches/stabs so they’re just about pushing their luck. I had Drake in mind when I originally wrote it which I think would have been a bit of a left turn for him. All the live bass on the album was played on a really cheap Peavy bass I bought for £50 from an advert in the back of a newspaper. It was a Toys R Us type deal where it came with a case, stand, amp, lead, tuner and a how to play bass book and CD all in one. It’s a bit of a nightmare to play as it’s so badly set up and the fretts are so buzzy but it’s got real character to it if you can get it to work. Even though I’ve subsequently got myself a really nice bass, there’s something about the cheap Peavy that I love.

3. ‘Burst’

Burst is the last track I wrote for the record. It’s built around a single guitar harmonic stretched and re-pitched throughout, put through a delay and drums I recorded on my phone out of my bathroom window of kids at the primary school next door playing in a drum circle. It kind of works like a high intensity sound bath, somewhat beligerently building the tension ahead of the final cinematic release at the end.

4. ‘Thanks’

Thanks is probably the closest thing to a Pop song there is on the album. It uses some of the same chopped up drums recorded from the school next door. The drums in the chorus took way longer than they sound to get right. Working on a grid is a lot easier! The white noise swell into the second verse comes from recording a Barroca tablet fizzing in a glass

5. ‘Stubbed Toes’

The main rhythm/drum loop in the first half comes from a slowed down, detuned bat call. It came out of Orlando asking me to send him something quick for him to write on, so I made the beat in ten minutes and fired it over and he sent some vocals back really quickly which were really nice, so I worked the track up and wrote the second half. It was a bit of miscommunication as he was writing for the Maccabees at the time and wanted to use it for something else – I think he’d just wanted to show me what he’d done with it… so I tried another couple of vocals including a lovely one in the second half from Rebekah Raa (my other half in Rainer) before having a couple of sound bath experiences that were really amazing. You lie down with your eyes covered and repetitive rhythmic instruments are played – drums etc – lulling you into a meditative frame of mind, via an initial stage of boredom through repetition, before there’s a sudden change and melodic tones and elements start coming in . There are Tibetan singing bowls or these beautiful glass bowls that were apparently used in microchip manufacture and there’s a complete musical change that can be completely overwhelming emotionally and physically – very psychedelic – like rushes of heat and different colours flaring up your body. I found them to be wonderful experiences and you come out of the other side feeling like you’ve had an amazing meditative yogic massage. I decided to leave off any lead vocals on the album and to kind of go with the sound bath idea for the track – so have the very repetitive first half to lull the mind before the last minute where there’s the sudden release and fall away into something majestic and full of colour.

6. ‘Should’ 
Should was originally written for a short film I scored for Alexander Brown (who worked on the artwork with me) but didn’t end up fitting in the film. I only ever played it once when I wrote it which I recorded and ended up using that original take as I liked the naivety and child-likeness of it.

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7. ‘Underground Grotto’

‘Underground Grotto’ has a sort of liminal half-awake half-asleep, coming out of a dream feel to it with a hopeful swell before falling back down at the end.

8. ‘Joy’

‘Joy’ is based around a phone recording of my sister singing opera that I pitched and slowed down. I liked the idea that it feels like it’s the start of something huge and then it just falls away leaving you wanting more… including me… I’d like to know what happens next which I like as it leaves it as a still open book.

9. ‘Halloween’

‘Halloween’ sounds like Halloween. I love the sounds at the start that sound like they’re sucking back into themselves. It has a load of weird sounds in it and I’m not sure I’d be able to remake it if I had to do it again from scratch.

10. ‘Walk’

I originally wrote it for a scene in a short film I was scoring that I hadn’t yet seen, only described to me. When the director sent the final scene, it had light hearted jokey dialogue so the tone was completely wrong. It was my favorite thing I wrote for the film so I was kind of pleased the director didn’t want to use it as I got to keep it for myself. I love the slightly otherworldly pitched down glockenspiel notes towards the end that sound a bit like icebergs knocking into each other. Making the video with Gabriele Peloso was very surreal as we drove the same route twenty five times throughout a night at 10kmph around the Aylesbury Estate (just round the corner from where I live), with a camera mounted on the front of the car. Near the end we got driven up on and blocked in by a car full of what either looked like gangsters (or undercover police) who we thought were going to steal the camera. But thankfully we made it out with the uninsured camera in one piece, though the last few shots were definitely a bit sketchy with us playing a bit of cat and mouse with the same car that seemed to be looking for us.

11. ‘As Easy As’

‘As Easy As’ has a valium like icey calm to it. That feeling of being on a plane or a train and just being propelled forward effortlessly before, in this case, once again falling into a totally different space.

12. ‘Honey Badger’ 

‘Honey Badger’ is the cutest name for the most fearlessly aggressive zero-fucks-given animal there is (the mantis shrimp is a close contender but has a significantly less cute name) – both well worth a Google. The ‘don’t you change a thing’ lyric is chopped out of a whole load of different people’s songs on YouTube where the sing acapella into a webcam. There’s something I really like about the lonely YouYube acapellas recorded alone in front of a computer, out there in the deluge of YouTube getting recontextualised into something that has some real emotional heft and gives a message of comfort in a world of the seemingly infinite digital. I like the idea that the people who sung the original bits might have forgotten them themselves in the vastness of the internet.

13. ‘Wake’

‘Wake’ came together really quickly when I wrote it and it always sounded like a dawn to me so I wasn’t sure whether to open or close the record with it. In the end I decided having it at the end of the record so it feels like you’re waking up, as if the whole record has been a slightly traumatic, but ultimately cathartic, night’s dreaming. It’s a bit of an odd piece of music so I really wanted to make a visual piece of artwork that helped make sense of the the music and it was really nice to do something practical that tied in with the scanned plant artwork. I met Tearlach whilst over at Alexander Brown’s house working on the album artwork. He mentioned a video he had made as part of his degree where he had melted a pewter tankard on a stove in a pan. I had no idea you could melt pewter at such a low temperature. We discussed some ideas and the possibility of casting a plant out of metal, melting it and having it grow in reverse – the idea was a sort of T-1000/Terminator 2 look with the plant growing out of liquid metal but with a real practical effect rather than CGI. I asked my model maker friend Robin Crowley whether he’d be up for casting a money plant in metal. He ended up casting all the leaves and branches modularly out of four kilos of three different lead alloys and then assembling the whole thing. There are some amazing photos of the whole process. It was a very beautiful object and a lot heavier than it looked. It was a bit sad on the day having to melt the whole thing but it does get to live on in the video.

Casually Here’s debut album ‘Kept’ is available for free download or on green vinyl here.