Album Review: Nickodemus – Soul & Science: flowing global beats for moving and messaging.

The Breakdown

It’s a record that energizes and engages. The innovative twists that so often emerge from the Nickodemus blender leave you grasping for comparisons.
Wonderwheel Recordings 8.8

New York based sonic traveller, producer and DJ Nickodemus is one of those global beats’ touchstones. Motivating dancefloors across the continents since the mid nineties and founder of the world rhythm epicentre that is Wonderwheel Recordings, he is a devoted fusionist with a deep feel for all his influences. Latin, disco, Arabic, funk, soul, afrobeat, hip-hop whatever, Nickodemus knows, respects and creates to arrive at thrilling borderless grooves.

Within a hyperactive trail of productions, remixes, tours and discoveries Nickodemus has always found time to focus on his own named output. Starting in 2005 with the now seminal ‘Endangered Species’ album, his output has been steady: ‘Sun People’ in 2009; 2012’s ’Moon People’; and his last solo record ‘A Long Engagement’ some five years ago. It’s almost as if he is waiting for the moment each time, gathering, collecting, melding together the syncopated sounds and cultural climates he encounters on his perennial travels. Now comes episode five with his new album ‘Soul & Science’ hitting the racks via Wonderwheel and once more it sounds like his timing has been immaculate. It’s a record that energizes and engages.

The Nickodemus modus is central to the album with a swathe of collaborators and guests, both old and new, adding to the dynamism. It’s like turning the corner and finding yourself welcome in the wildest block party. Necessarily there is a disco presence with NY afro-futurist hip hop duo The Illustrious Blacks bringing their decadent abandon to a couple of cuts. First up there’s the frisky and fierce expose of Plastic, all pneumatic tambourine and pumping bass that may not push any musical boundaries but boy does it sound crisp. Plus Manchildblack and Monstah Black’s whip smart snap at the empty (plastic) world of pose has a wily satiric sting. The slurring sarcasm of the ‘I’m so here I’m so there, worldwide baby’ takes no prisoners. The pair return alongside go-to Brooklyn-based DJ, Bad Colours on the Balearic bump of Knockin, a percussion heavy stomp that manages to smoothly set a lyrical rip from Macca’s ‘Let ‘em in’ within a faux-Philly string sound. In other hands this could sound messy but with Nickodemus at the controls things sound just fine.

But despite all the polish, it’s the tunes where the combinations are more surprising and rhythmic base broadens which inject ‘Soul & Science’ with distinctive highlights. Opener La Noche swoops ominously around some cobbled squares and narrow streets, with an urgent acoustic bass line and Antonio Lizana’s dramatic flamenco vocals. Here Nickodemus shows his fluent musicality, teasing out Arabic inflexions in the spiralling melodies and staccato hand-claps while leaving space for Lizana’s sultry almost ethio sax. The raw soul rock of Shadow Thief shows a similar giddy alchemy. Part Ngoni twang, part snappy snare, part eastern flutes, there’s even a hint of a gnawa drone as a subplot. Here Sudanese-American vocalist, and frequent Nickodemus collaborator, Alsarah gives the song an assertiveness with her strident delivery of the pop-prog quirkiness, ‘she tricked me with her magic words/promised castles in the sky’ etc.

Perhaps Mamaciterranea best demonstrates the innovative twists that so often emerge from the Nickodemus blender and leave you grasping for comparisons. An uplifting earthiness oozes from this piece of raucous folk that merges Balkan heft, pizzica frenzy and a cumbia proto skank into a pulsing ceremonial which, in line with the album’s essential message, celebrates music’s collective thrill. The fellow contributors, emergent Ecuadorian singer Huaria with her Wonderwheel recording partner, Berlin producer Captures plus Mauro Durante from pizzica supergroup CSG, are naturally key to the song’s heady atmospherics.

Talking of natural, a Nickodemus record without his old buddy Quantic featuring somewhere might seem incomplete and sure enough Will Holland delivers a glisteningly fresh brass arrangement to Rhumba Tobacco y Ron. What’s more the track sees the pair reunited with the Candela Allstars, the Puerto Rican band that fronted their 2018 mega-hit ‘Mi Swing Es Tropical’. No shock then that this new track on ‘Soul & Science’ is an immaculately colourful, shoulder rolling winner.

Although exuberance underpins the Nickodemus oeuvre, he also pokes and prods at wider questions particularly our tense relationship with technology. For a producer and studio whizz in the dance music arena, it’s a dynamic that must niggle at Nickodemus each time he starts a project. With seemingly no limits to simulation these days what remains important about the human contribution? The Herbie H/ ‘Future Shock’ phase electro booster Race To Robotics blasts out a controlled ‘this is not a test’ warning but perhaps the driving retro soul funk title track gets more explicit with Malik Work’s incisive clipped narration. With rhymes like ‘I’m in the workshop fiddling with alchemy/trying to keep the tech overlords off of me’ it feels close to a Nickodemus personal statement.

With an album that’s so eclectic, that dares to veer from the acid-rave synth buzz of Shakti to a skipping jit-jiving horn fest on the carnivalesque No Puedo Parar, you might think that the cracks would begin to appear. Inexplicably and almost magically that’s not what happens here. There is flow and thread, a continuity maintained by the consistent quality of the tunes and a musical sensibility that knows what’s right. ‘Soul & Science‘ never sounds contradictory in the hands of Nickodemus, it feels like some sort of solution.

Get your copy of ‘Soul & Science’ from your local record store or direct from HERE

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