Nightmares On Wax – ‘N.O.W. Is The Time’ (Warp Records)

At almost 30 tracks this monumental outing explores, in depth, the best of the last 25 years of Nightmares On Wax‘s styles and influences spanning from early 90’s rave culture to Roots and Dub. George ‘E.A.S.E’ Evelyn stands as Warp’s longest serving artist and what better way to appreciate his talent than by mapping his progression from the early days right on through to his more recent projects. The album is essentially a timeline of his work that follows his understanding of the clubbing culture that ensued and the BPM’s that dominated those periods.

We’re met by some of his earliest work in which rave culture was at the epicentre of his childhood home in Leeds. Working closely with Kevin Harper, the duo signed to Warp and released their debut album ‘A Word Of Science’ in 91 in which the tracks ‘Dextrous’ and ‘Aftermath’ were for ever written in the pantheon of rave veterans. Both tracks highlight a fantastic period for British music and culture. A time where bleeps were cool and percussion was rugged and to the point. The high energy and jittery percussion on both tracks would be just as effective in today’s close quartered clubbing arenas where House and Techno take centre court. ‘Aftermath’ was also released as a 12″ vinyl along side the bleep-rich ‘I’m For Real’ as a storming rave release at the beginning of Britain’s underground clubbing culture.

It’s refreshing, and inevitable, to see some of his earlier Trip-Hop and down-tempo Hip-Hop material make the full length, as for me, this was some of his strongest work. The chill out side to his production is always gentle and precise, with incredibly complimentary vocals that seem to effortlessly facilitate the tracks bulk. Drawing from some of his classic albums like ‘Smoker’s Delight’ and ‘Carboot Soul’ the full length explores his ability to merge the style of New York Hip-Hop with sounds that were popular in the UK at the time. The track ‘Dreddoverboard’ stands out as it seems to merge styles whilst remaining very specific to the 90’s. It’s selling point is the fact that it sits at around 115 BPM yet it still sounds as if it has been pulled straight off a Hip Hop album. The track is doused in sax samples indicating that he was listening to a lot of early 90’s sample-based Hip-Hop at the time. Through his undeniable love for the genre and deep understanding of it’s rich history, he worked with some huge names including De La Soul and Roots Manuva. The track ‘Mega Donutz’ however from the 1991 album ‘A Word Of Science’ saw Evelyn work with an MC from Leeds. The underground legend that is Tozz 180 of the Rodney P era stands as the focal point for this playful Hip-Hop track which is a real slice of history. Tozz 180 offers that little bit of raw underground talent.

The majority of his efforts on the full length however remained a lot more down-tempo than this. The tracks ‘Les Nuits’ and ‘Morse’ from the album ‘Carboot Soul’ for instance ruminate some familiar riffs over precise percussion and distant patches. Sarah Winton’s gentle vocal work wraps both songs in love with warm and thought-provoking dexterity it’s a calming experience to say the least. Running with this melodic train of thought, in 2002 he released the album ‘Mind Elevation’, presumably with the intention of elevating the minds of human beings. The album was “heavenly” and focused on the laid back ethereal tones found in ‘Mind Eye’ and ‘Thinking Of Omara’. His use of live instrumentation really comes into fruition on these slower bits as he creates enough space for each instrument to have a powerful place in the track. The vocals on the track ‘Passion’ for instance are ushered along by wet and spacious keys that reverberate the track’s melancholic nature.

His Dub and Roots influenced production began to shine through in later years which only opened up a larger story to his musical background. We see him begin to merge his love for Hip-Hop and Dub on the up-lifting track ’70s 80s’- It’s a summer jam with an undeniably bubbly sentiment. Going deeper still, it’s an insulate and reminiscent nostalgic look in the past where I gather he was enjoying himself.  The tracks ‘Flip Ya Lid’ and ‘African Pirates’ taken from the 2006 album ‘In a Space Outta Sound’ are a sign of his appreciation for the Dub and Roots culture of the UK and really stand on their own in this revisited project. It’s the more playful side to his production where he seemed to focus a lot on the track’s percussive qualities and the live instrumentation used. I had noticed he often uses the classic consistent faint strumming of a worn out guitar, (also found on the track ‘195 Lbs’) giving the track an altogether more authentic feeling. Again, it’s his ability to create gentle and precise music in whatever style he deems that proves so infectious.

Keeping that in mind, it’s fair to say that most will definitely enjoy this record, more so if you’re already fan of N.O.W. The tracks have been carefully selected in the hope of painting an honest picture of Nightmares On Wax’s rich musical history. Beyond this it’s interesting to follow his progression touching on his most important efforts and exploring the avenues his background led him through. We see the full breadth of his technical ability as well as his own understanding of pivotal points in British music and culture. For those who haven’t really delved into his music this would be a great starting point.

N.O.W. Is The Time is available to buy on digital and vinyl now, for more information see here.

Andreas Basile

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