Nightmares on Wax’s latest look into the mind-bending world of trip-hop begins with glimmering synths that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Pet Shop Boys intro. The godfather of downtempo instrumental hip-hop hits some familiar notes, both literally and figuratively, with his latest never-before-heard single “Let’s Ascend.”
The single itself, introduced by NOW’s classic “Nights Introlude,” features a repeating piano arpeggio, counterpointed by a synth strings note. A sampled female vocal gives the whole thing a sensual, midnight feel, like you’re stepping into a Tokyo sushi bar on a rainy evening. A tight hi-hat rhythm keeps the whole piece moving quickly, and despite the repetition of the piano/synth combo, the whole song never drags or feels stale. It’s tight, clean, but with enough room for the solo producer to do his job, and it stands alone as a single on its own merit very nicely.
George Evelyn (or Nightmares on Wax) dropped his latest on February 11th, a previously unheard single off of his classic 1995 album “Smokers Delight.” It’s cliched to say an album “set the stage” for an entire genre of music to come, but in NOW’s case, “Smoker’s Delight” was the first truly transcendent trip-hop album. Along with Portishead’s “Dummy” and Massive Attack’s “Blue Lines,” the largely British genre, that featured synths, vocal sampling, and low-key piano riffs, was a direct result of NOW’s artistry.
With the album’s 25th anniversary coming up, “Let’s Ascend” gives listeners a welcome segue into Evelyn’s world of muted guitar tones, extraterrestrial synths, and subtly feminine vocals. This is music made for dark clubs, rainy night drives, and mellow kickback sessions. With Evelyn announcing a world tour in support of the album’s anniversary, it’s likely we’ll hear more unreleased tracks from his prolific career, and one can only hope the genius of “Smoker’s Delight” is matched by whatever he chooses to release next.