Album of the Week: Nightmares on Wax – Shape the Future

Warp’s artist in residence since 1989. Nightmares on Wax is back on the label he calls home with his first LP in five years, proffering a vision on the shape of things to come in “Shape the Future”. Nightmares on Wax have seen electronic music gestate as an underground movement, develop throughout the nineties and refined with technology to this point today, where it is firmly ingrained in the popular psyche. Breaking out in the UK rave scene in the late eighties, Nightmares on Wax have moved in unison with the development of that music, moving from the breakneck breaks of early rave and hardcore records, to the more idle dub sound George Evelyn has cultivated since Smokers Delight in 1995. A solo project today and with large group of collaborators on call, Nightmares on Wax have slipped into a unwavering groove that has seen the music develop little, but remain consistently good, and in “Shape the Future” it’s hit on something contemporaneously perfect with the current landscape of electronic music.

In the foreground, Nightmares on Wax’s low-slung dub rhythms, long legato pads, and warm keys swirl around the album in its usual impassive mode, but underpinning the album is the slickest production and song-writing we’ve heard on an electronic music album for some time. “On it Maestro” sounds closer to something recorded during Abbey Road’s heyday rather than the ubiquitous bedroom-studio and with a severe focus in combining various elements into fully-formed songs, rather than extended loops, “Shape the Future” is Moby’s “Play” from a roots-dub purview. From the bluesy sway of “Typical” to the Gospel break-beat exhalation of  “Citizen Kane”, there’s an ineffable appeal to the music that lingers with the listener and expounds on the Nightmares on Wax sound with a more accessible approach.

The deep swelling bass-lines and Hip-Hop sampling techniques remain consistent with what we’ve come to know from Nightmares on Wax since “Smokers Delight”, but vocals from the likes of Sadie Walker, Jordan Rakei and Mozez re-contextualises it in popular music’s more palpeable idiom. We’ve seen many electronic music artists trying to find that intangible cross-over between the dance floor and the pop album of the late, but where few were able to achieve that by merely adding a vocal line to a House track, Nightmares in Wax succeeds. Shape the Future is an album with remarkable cross-over appeal without bastardising or fetishising the roots-sound of Nightmares on Wax.