The steady decline of once-great electronic artists seems to be preordained these days. It seems like hardly a month passes when I don't slip in a new record by a musician who was making superior sounds in the 1990s, only to find a tired retread of their past achievements or, worse, a pitiful attempt to go pop. George Evelyn, the co-founder and now sole member of Nightmares on Wax, has been making music under the moniker for almost twenty years, but this ranks with his best. It's a perfect chill-out record, readymade for a sunny day or starry night, and it straddles the line between evolving style and signature sound brilliantly.
First exploding with the genre classic Smoker's Delight (1995), Nightmares on Wax is often lumped into the now-irrelevant trip-hop crowd. Using soulful samples and mild beat-driven tracks, Evelyn has added some live instrumentation and subtle vocals while still retaining his essential sound. While his DJ Kicks mix in 2000 revealed his inner hip-hop head, In a Space Outta Sound is swimming in soul. But the vocals never overpower the songs, like on "The Sweetest," one of the best tracks. A simple refrain plays out over a morphing beat, with everything intermingling until the song isn't about vocals or music but mood. The feeling carries over to nearly every track: this is a decidedly mellow listening experience.
Late in the album, "I Am You" offers a stunning vocal performance by Zero 7 collaborator Mozez, and closer "African Pirates," the record's most upbeat, percussion-heavy track, still manages to maintain a steady mood. If there is one complaint, it would be that the nu-jazzy "positive love soul elevation" stuff gets a little cheesy. But that matters little when the beats are this good.
Music like that on In a Space Outta Sound often pays the price at the critic chopping block for its lightness, mostly because of its audience, but also because it borrows from - and is reminiscent of - the least confrontational styles of music. But there is no real substitute for top-shelf down-tempo music when you're in the mood for it. Luckily, there are still some people around interested in providing just that.
Warp Web site (streaming audio)