Nightmares On Wax: In A Space Outta Sound

Nightmares On Wax, Warp's longest-serving act (the 12-inch single Dextrous dropped in 1989), returns with the slow burning In A Space Outta Sound, only the group's fifth studio album in sixteen years (more precisely, George Evelyn aka EASE—'Experimental Sample Expert'—has been the group's sole pilot since 1991's A Word Of Science). Though NOW's sound might generally be called soulful trip-hop, Evelyn takes the album on such an extensive global trek, it would be inaccurate to label it one thing only, though soul is definitely the music's common currency. Interestingly, the material ranges widely without ever losing its unified sound, a fact attributable to recurring elements (like vocals from Chyna B, Sara Garvey, and Moses) and old-school influences (Quincy Jones, Curtis Mayfield) that add classic spice to fresh beats.

“Passion” opens the set in downtempo 6/8 mode with electric piano and organ accents brewing a lush meal for strings and vocal cries. Cue the ensuing travelogue: lulling reggae rhythms and scratchy guitars take the listener to Trenchtown (“Flip Ya Lid”), ritual percussive rhythms meet snappy hip-hop and elephantine bass lines in “African Pirates,” and, most impressively, silken strings and a soul choir, serenaded by aromatic harpsichord playing, strut through an Arabian marketplace in “Damn.” Other tracks reveal their city roots: “The Sweetest” is the kind of banging throbber you'd expect to hear belting from someone's cruiser, while braying horns splatter over drum brushes in the funky loper “Pudpots.” The blues-drenched “I Am You” oozes a passion for dramatic gospel-soul that calls to mind Prince's similarly-styled takes on the genre. Despite In A Space Outta Sound's casual vibe and natural, uncluttered sound (digital trickery is either kept to a minimum or its presence downplayed), Evelyn digs a deep and sunkissed groove throughout. “Elevate your soul” indeed.

March 2006