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Nick Nicely – Sleep Safari

Tapete

Nick Nicely - Sleep SafariNick Nicely is a bit of a mystery. It would appear that he has been recording and releasing music for the best part of the last forty years, but this album released on Tapete is only his third non-compilation full-length record in that time. A series of psychedelic singles were released in the early ’80s and then a series of dancefloor-filling twelve inches in the nineties, and then all went quiet again until the cassette only album Lysergia appeared via Burger in 2010. This third album in seven years gives the impression of a relative surfeit of material — or possibly due to renewed critical interest, a desire to put some ideas back out there.

The interesting thing about Sleep Safari is that it is informed by two quite different worlds; the psychedelic desire for exploration, both internally and externally, which informs the title and the opening line of the first track “3am, you wake, the dream begins” and his love of beats, as evinced by the career at the top of the nineties dance charts and the profusion of murky, submerged rhythms that bolster the majority of the tracks on the album.

Opener “Solar Wind” sets the scene perfectly; the lulling electronic rhythms give the impression that your bed is bobbing in a gentle swell as sleepy beats with just enough energy prop your pillow up. Nick’s voice is soporific, but is effected to the point that lyrics are often obscured and appear to drift in and out of focus, like a siren calling to you in a dream. There is a croonerish element to the tone and some dramatic ’80s inflections that are quite comforting. The pretty little nylon guitar figure that comes in and out of focus is lovely but sounds underwater, as if the amplifier were lodged in some deep cave.

Nick’s first instrument is the harmonica and there is an introduction to its delights on the reggae-tinged “Gliding”, which finds the voice and sounds moving in and out of phase. It is in no way disconcerting and if anything is quite appealing. The attempt to create a dreamlike atmosphere does give the listener that feeling that we should be lying down to listen to the album. In fact, lying down and doing nothing else is probably the best way to fully enjoy Sleep Safari as the songs gradually fold in on themselves and the lyrics, when you are able to catch them, flit just out of your reach, strange and out of place. The voice is a little like Morpheus, drawing you in to a half-sleep state and the deft, submerged rhythm is perfect, as we dance to “The Sound Of The Moon”.

Grasscut remix “London South 2” and strip the song right back to its bare essentials, highlighting the beautiful, slightly melancholy descending keyboard motif that is central to the track. It drifts like low lying cloud glimpsed at 4am through a tower block window as you get up for a glass of water and then stretch and head back to that luxurious sleep that happens as day begins to break. There is a touch of experimental broken Warp-like beats on “Step Away” and the feeling is that of a view out of a speeding train window, but your reflexes have been slowed right down so that everything around you seems even more sped-up, to the point of hallucination.

Things do head in a slightly less relaxing direction as the album reaches its conclusion. “Souvenir” is a little more disturbing, like a radio not quite in tune and Nick’s voice at times takes on a hallucinatory, almost devilish tone. The wedding in space vibe of penultimate track “Heaven’s Kate” finally gives way to the spy movie guitar intro of closer “Dance Away” and that is able to raise the listener from their slumber just in time to turn the record player off. The vocal is absolutely stuffed full of reverb, with horns and off-kilter ghost-train keyboards evoking a nightmarish scene. Clearly not every attempt at slumber is expected to be refreshing and perhaps this is just a reminder to not take sleep for granted. The fuzzed out guitar break is almost a physical attempt to rouse you from bed and is a slightly disconcerting end to the dreamlike journey upon which the album takes the listener.

Nick has really produces an affecting and delirious paean to sleep in all its forms, and dreams of a good and bad nature here — but most of all, he has shown that he still has plenty of fantastic ideas up his pyjama sleeves. Here’s hoping he doesn’t disappear into the land of nod, never to be heard from again.

-Mr Olivetti-

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