Nikkfurie of La Caution: Nikkfurie's Ghost Company
Maison Closed

Nikkfurie's Ghost Company, an ambitious, seventy-five-minute song cycle by Nikkfurie (Ahmed Mazouz, one-half of the French electro rap duo La Caution and a composer who's contributed material to projects by directors such as JJ Abrams [Undercovers] and Steven Soderbergh [Ocean's Twelve]), has been a long time coming: though created between 1996 and 2001, it supposedly remained unreleased due its “unclassifiable nature”—the implication being that today's climate is more hospitable to such a wide-ranging collection.

Mazouz produced the material, which was conceived to be a kind of soundtrack to an imaginary film called The Ghost Company, in Paris using a modest array of gear (Atari ST, MPCs, guitars, vinyl discs and tapes, and S2800 and S950). For those wishing to experience the album as both music and narrative, Mazouz has generously provided text along with every song to clarify what's happening in the Ulysses-like saga at any given moment. That being so, the listener, as is always the case with such projects, can choose to ignore the text and simply focus on the tunes, which hold up perfectly fine on purely musical grounds.

Evoking Paris's infamous underground (specifically, Mazouz imagined for the tune a homeless man rising to the surface and exploring Paris's streets at night), “Catacombs” sets the album's explorative tone with a rapidly scene-shifting overture of rock guitar figures and headnodding hip-hop grooves. What follows is an eclectic travelogue of contrasting moods and styles, with some pieces laid-back and introspective and others grittier and harder-edged. Lots of memorable moments pop up along the way: the herky-jerky dance moves within “DJ Under the Club,” the swaggering groove in “Louis XIV” that struts with a kind of regal pride, and the punchy electrofied groove in “Blind Whatsoever” that Mazouz sprinkles with harpsichord-like dazzle. In addition, “The Guide” benefits from the vocal sample of a French-Japanese songstress Mazouz integrated into the song without her knowing, while “Pearls,” a chiming interlude of beatless splendour, finds our protagonist nostalgically recalling his days in the catacombs while sleeping on a bench at Sacre Cœur.

There's no shortage of headnod on offer, but Nikkfurie's Ghost Company is not a purely instrumental hip-hop project as the stylistic range extends democratically into multiple electrofied areas, including pop, funk, and rock. And though it came into being over a decade ago, Nikkfurie's electro-funk material doesn't sound dated; were one unaware of its production history, one would have no reason to believe the album wasn't created recently by a particularly resourceful bedroom producer. If anything, it's hard to understand why material of such relatively accessible character took so long to emerge from its own underground to see the light of day.

August-September 2014