Nicolay - Glaciers (with The Hot At Nights) (2018)

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Nicolay, The Hot at Nights – Glaciers

The music man behind much of the signature tones that have come to define The Foreign Exchange (+FE) sound continues his alchemist trick of making instrumental electronic music feel organic for laypeople who swear they don’t care for electronic music. Following a tradition initially established in jazz by artists like Miles Davis and in soul by Stevie Wonder’s experimentations in Songs in the Key of Life (peaking in the woefully underrated In A Square Circle), manipulating electronic music to distill the innate robotic coldness of its confines to cultivate something emotional and resonating is a hard row. Most lean into the coldness, creating music that stretches from the industrial and dystopian to the nihilistic and metallic.

Nicolay, The Hot at Nights – Glaciers

The music man behind much of the signature tones that have come to define The Foreign Exchange (+FE) sound continues his alchemist trick of making instrumental electronic music feel organic for laypeople who swear they don’t care for electronic music. Following a tradition initially established in jazz by artists like Miles Davis and in soul by Stevie Wonder’s experimentations in Songs in the Key of Life (peaking in the woefully underrated In A Square Circle), manipulating electronic music to distill the innate robotic coldness of its confines to cultivate something emotional and resonating is a hard row. Most lean into the coldness, creating music that stretches from the industrial and dystopian to the nihilistic and metallic.

Dutch-born, Raleigh-based composer-producer Nicolay has consistently found ways to resist this ease by playing opposites with songs seeking to tell a story without words in ways that still feel human with a capacity to touch. There is an irony in Nicolay calling his fifth solo/duo album outside of the +FE moniker Glaciers, as there is little chilly about this release. Compounding the irony is the name of his collaborators on this epic project, The Hot at Nights (North Carolina-based guitarist Chris Boerner, Matt Douglas on woodwinds, and drummer Nick Baglio). Mixing the fiery trio with his warm electronic sounds on an album suggesting frigid temperatures, Nicolay brings a tongue-in-cheek humor to a project rich with the serious and the bold.
Baglio’s dexterous percussion and Boerner’s guitar interplay on “Pioneer 11” and the powerful electric guitar solo on “Of Days Gone By,” just for starters, bring Glaciers more into the realm of electronic jazz than electronica or electrosoul. Arena rock influences can be heard playing along the edges of the bigger, more propulsive tunes, in much the way sweet pop can be heard on cuts like “The Current.” Like much of the +FE musical backdrops since the advent of 2013’s Love in Flying Colors, the R&B and funk of tunes like “Behind Your Door,” when present at all, is of an early ‘80s, late ‘70s variety when artists like Steely Dan and Gino Vannelli were kings.

As with all Nicolay solo or duo projects, the focus is on movement, avoiding repetition for too long, and keeping a composition flowing and the ear engaged. This is a vital rebuttal for folks who critique the genre for its overreliance on loops and hooks. Unlike much of electronica and electrosoul, Nicolay eschews trance-inducing sameness so that compositions have peaks and valleys, and new ideas that slide in to complement old ones with seamlessness, as with cuts like “Saturn,” “To See You Again,” and “The Coast is Clear.” Nicolay is allergic to musical boredom.

Not everything gets a high-five, as some cuts seem to go on longer than they should, but the musicianship and originality on this project harken growth in Nicolay as a producer who has been in the game a couple of decades now. The top drawer Hot at Nights players, the work by Boerner and Baglio in particular, also bring some much-needed energy to a label brand that had become somewhat predictable and more than a bit comfortable since the early adventurousness that marked Nicolay’s and the +FE run of 2004’s Connected to 2013’s The ReWorks project, where surprise and daring was once always on deck. If Glaciers signals a more musically adventurous direction for the North Carolina-based family, we’re here for it and more. Highly Recommended.
By L. Michael Gipson

 
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