As regular readers will know, I’m not that much of a fan of covers of songs. The only point, for my money at least, in revisiting an already well-known song is to do something different with it, after all why bother trying to reinvent the wheel and then try to sell it to a bunch of wheel enthusiasts who are more than happy with the original wheel. Okay, not a great analogy but you get what I’m saying. This is why I don’t watch cover bands and don’t get me started on tribute acts. It’s all substandard wheels as far as the eye can see.
If in the past I have described Nick’s work as being drifting and dreamlike, his latest album, Sleep Safari, is the logical extension of those signature sounds being nothing less than an exploration of the lucid dream state, a homage to unconsciousness and a mission to make music which reflects such a meditative condition. Ever since Joe Meek first conducted his homemade musical experiments at the start of the rock ‘n’roll era, musicians have been fascinated with trying to capture the idea of the otherworldly in sound, be it journeys into outer or inner space, and Nick’s musical odyssey into the subconscious stands alongside the best of them.
All too often such music has been the bastion of the progressive rocker or the wide-eyed avant gardener, the results wandering between the bombastic and the boggling, the pretentious and the purposeless. But the deft touches, creativity and wide sound palette that he employs here means that Sleep Safari encompasses much within its 10 tracks. It moves between futuristic dance and widescreen, cinematic soundscapes, rich psychedelia and stark clinical rhythms, eclecticism and electronica, plays with past glories and paints future visions.
It is a collection of musical scenarios built from a textural and conceptual richness plus a wonderful grandeur that exceeds the mere musical melodramatics which is more often the case when navigating such wide open sonic possibilities. As always Nick gives us something fresh and truly unique and again, as always, he is more than aware that even when you have such a wealth of sonic wizardry at your fingertips it is still all about producing something musical, something which has substance, purpose and poise as well as mere style. Thankfully Nick, as is his want, delivers all this and more.
Most people build songs based on solidity – riffs, defined chord progressions, choruses, verses – you know all the stuff that has been tried and tested over many years by thousands of artists through millions of songs. But doesn’t that just mean that it’s time for a change? I’m not saying that Nick is the first person to visit these musical peripheries but he is certainly one of a very select gang of sonic explorers who from the 80’s onwards grabbed the emerging and increasingly affordable technology and used it to unlock and create whole new worlds.
Ghostdream is concerned with textures not structures, transcendent noise rather than conventional deliveries, moods rather than hooks. It blends strange space noises and clinical beats with sonorous washes, pulsing synths and robotic vocals. This first track off the forth coming album Sleep Safari is coupled with another strange and exploratory piece, making this what we used to call a double A side, though I guess new terms are needed.
The Otherside 2 follows a similarly ethereal path, playing with disjointed atmospherics before committing to a regular beat upon which to hang and order its musical ideas.
With lyrics often relegated to the role of another instrument rather than a focal point, the music paints pictures and suggests scenes and scenarios that are limited only by the listener’s imagination, irrespective of the composer’s intentions; you are the interpreter here, this is your dream. In just one listen I saw galaxies dying and being reborn, ancient city streets, I viewed the world from the top of mountains and I swam in its deepest oceans. All that and I hadn’t even had lunch yet.
Some bands like to think they are pushing boundaries but they are really just doing the equivalent of knocking the two downstairs rooms into one. Nick’s music is so transient that it seems to float through solid structures at an atomic level out into a wider, unbounded, barrier free universe. That’s how you deal with musical conventions.
If there is such a thing as “timeless” music then Nick Nicely is the ultimate timelord. Not only occasionally plundering the key working components that drove everything from 60’s psychedelia to 70’s pre-punk experimentalism to late eighties Shoegazing but also garnering sounds that seem somehow disconnected from contemporary music. Sounds more akin to industrial noise or the distant echo of the big bang, the organic sounds of our body’s metabolism or the claustrophobic atmosphere of extreme weather about to break. How he is able to weave all those sounds into palatable music is mystery enough but the bigger question is how someone can even come up with the idea of working with such sounds in the first place.
Space of a Second isn’t really an album that feels like a mere collection of songs yet neither is it a concept album, no more than any other album that has an internal consistency of style and sound. It feels more like an astral symphony, an old musical form using contemporary instruments to create the sound of the future. Actually the more I try to explain it the more I realise just how hard it is to put into words, I suppose that’s why words result in books and sounds result in music and very often one is an insufficient tool to explain the other.
There are parts that sound like a David Lynch road movie sound track if it took place in the backwater space lanes of the far future, expressing vast horizons and channelling the grandeur of the universe whilst channelling a dark, brooding and oft times threatening sub-plot. Other moments are pure baroque pop coming reasonably close to a traditional structure but still taking a subversive and dim view on such conformities. Elsewhere it seems like the bastard child of psychedelia and showgazery or some sort of missing link that has only just been unearthed and that adds a new chapter to music’s historical record.
Whatever is going on here, and it is music so wide in scope and adventurous in its mission that everyone will have a different interpretation, it is enough to say that Nick Nicely is a visionary, a cosmic shaman and a musical archaeologist all rolled into one. Lao Tzu once said, “Music in the soul can be heard by the universe” so maybe this is the music of the universe as heard by the soul.