Nightmares On Wax - Shape The Future

by Jon Burke Rating:7 Release Date:2018-01-26
Nightmares On Wax - Shape The Future
Nightmares On Wax - Shape The Future

I really wanted to like this record and, to a certain extent, I did. That said, the latest album by Leeds’ own George Evelyn, a.k.a. Nightmares On Wax (NOW), is a prime example of what can happen when musical brilliance meets lyrical limitations and a record that should soar ends up barely clearing the treetops. In 2018 we need unity, clarity and kindness in order to defeat fascism. What we don’t need in 2018 is hippie pseudo-science and conspiracy theories. Within the first twelve minutes of Shape The Future listeners are inundated with nothing but hippie pseudo-science and conspiracy theories albeit set to some really lovely beats and that, in a nutshell, is the frustrating dichotomy of this record.

“Back To Nature,” the opening tack on Shape The Future, begins with Kuauhtli Vasquez stating:

“All humans share one spirit. All humans share a consciousness… All human thought vibrates at a certain frequency. We’re all in communication. When you exhale, I breathe the air you breathe…”

It goes on and on.

No knock against anyone’s religious beliefs or practices. No knock against the idea that modern medicine has some major failings. But, seriously, a rambling lecture about the Earth’s magnetism, “global consciousness” and how “we’re all eating the food that Mother Earth gives us” does nothing to address any real problem we face as humans. Instead, it sounds a lot like the kind of uninformed new age horseshit a teenager would spout-off while stoned on his couch playing videogames. And it just gets worse from here.

Track two, “Tell My Vision,” feature vocals by Andrew Ashong, who sounds a bit like Bill Withers—which is never a bad thing. Unfortunately, Ashong seems to lack Withers’ legendary no-bullshit commonsense approach to songwriting and politics. In a call-and-response format, Ashong croons:

“Some say the Earth is flat/ (We never went to the moon!)/ Weed is a cure for cancer/ (Inside we all know the answer!)”

It is this kind of fringe nonsense that keeps the left fractured and unfocused. Over-hyping the (relatively) unstudied medicinal properties of marijuana is silly. But fostering the conspiratorial beliefs that the Earth is flat, and the moon landing was faked, is just plain dangerous. On an album titled, Shape The Future, NOW is espousing an incredibly ignorant worldview. On an album that so clearly tries to be political, NOW is dangerously short on actual information about modern political discourse. There’s no need for NOW to transform into The Coup, or even Rage Against the Machine, but at least get up off the couch and read a paper or two before lecturing your audience.

Fortunately, things improve after the album’s dismal opening tracks. Shape The Future’s title track is a slow jazz hustle, which NOW peppers with synths and handclaps and strings to great effect. “Tomorrow” is a lovely bit of dub reminiscent of early NOW music. The vocals on “Tomorrow,” by LSK, are lovely when laid atop the song’s chugging beat and effectively distract from the platitudinous nature of the lyrics.

Shape The Future’s real highlights come when NOW puts out whatever he’s been smoking, gets off the couch, and makes some serious moves into R&B territory. “Typical,” featuring vocals by Jordan Rakei, “Citizen Kane” with vocals by Mozez and “Deep Shadows” which boasts an incredible performance by Sadie Walker, all shine on a record that is simply too faded too often.

On “Typical” NOW rather brilliantly evokes the smoky Hank Ballard-esque feel of early Soul/R&B while superimposing Jordan Rakei’s smooth, 80’s Marvin Gaye, sound overtop. Disparate sounds of the musical past unite to create a song that for the first time on Shape The Future actually sounds like something new. If anything, “Typical,” firmly places Jordan Rakei in the pantheon of great modern soul vocalists like Leon Bridges, The Suffers and The Greyhounds.

Mozez’s work on “Citizen Kane” fits in nicely with the track’s Philly Soul vibe. Though Mozez doesn’t quite have Teddy Pendergrass’ smooth rasp, his voice has a raw edge to it that really pairs well with the orchestral elements of “Citizen Kane.” The song’s conclusion hints at what Gamble & Huff might have done if they’d moved on from disco and into drum n’ bass.

Unlike “Typical” and “Citizen Kane,” Sadie Walker’s “Deep Shadows” is completely untethered to the past. The bombastic drums, and odd chiming glass sound, which make up the rhythm of the track thump along nicely under Walker’s rusty, mournful vocals. Walker’s voice eschews artistic comparison because, just when one thinks she sounds like Rihanna, Walker shifts and suddenly she sounds like Mary J. Blige or Mariah Carey or Alicia Keys or Janelle Monae… simply listening for all the transitions is a pleasure.

The album closes with “Gotta Smile” and “The Othership,” two mostly-instrumental explorations of rhythm and electronic textures which ultimately don’t amount to much. “The Othership” feels a bit like Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” with a kind of in-and-out noodling take on Eddie Hazel’s guitar solo. The album’s final track, a rap version of “Citizen Kane,” actually detracts from the original. The hustler is still there, as are Mozez’s glorious vocals, but rapping by Allan Kingdom which, at one point, rhymes the phrase “pound a ho” with “sourdough” distracts from the best parts of the original and serves as a final example of lyrical limitations stunting the success of a good song.

Shape The Future is worth a listen for its three Soul and R&B tracks—all of which are great playlist fodder. If this record shapes the future in any way I hope it convinces NOW to move away from smoked-out attempts to make some kind of organic Endtroducing. Instead I hope NOW explores more collaborations with artists like Rakei and Walker who clearly know better than to waste anyone present with conspiracy theories and weed screeds.

 

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