Album review: Nilson – News From Nowhere

Album artwork

Words by Grey Malkin

One fine summer morn last August, quite quietly, there slipped out some News From Nowhere. Like an old, hazy photograph stirring a sense of compelling and nostalgic melancholia, or a chance find of a discarded, unlabelled cassette tape from another time and place bringing back some half-forgotten memories, this was welcome news indeed. Nowhere turned out, in fact, to be Hamburg. And the correspondent was the artist simply known as Nilson, who already has two ornate and beguiling full length albums to his name.

‘News From Nowhere’, intended to be ageless or an album ‘without era’ (in that it could have been recorded at any point between the 70s and now) is a beautiful ghost of a recording. It hints strongly at the acid folk revolution of the early 70s, with its baroque woodwind and flutes, its delicately picked guitar lines and its pastoral and bucolic moods and themes. Hidden and woven into the songs’ textures and harmonies are carefully chosen field recordings and samples from some of those aforementioned acid or psych folk milestones, all layered and interspersed in a manner that feels both seamless and the sum of its parts.

The album begins with ‘Descent into Deeptime’, a sample of a cut glass English accent frantically exclaims ‘we are doomed’ before woodwind and a delicately fingerpicked guitar and autoharp enter, all led by a solitary ritual drumbeat. Akin to an outtake from The Wicker Man, the melodies build, brighten and quicken, the result recalling Candidate’s excellent 2002 musical tribute to Summerisle ‘Nuada’. Tabla and cymbals punctuate the gentle ambiance as voices conversing in German and English haunt the surrounds, this music may be rooted in the bucolic but it is also ghostly fare; there is a genuine sense of witnessing or hearing something that has long since passed into the ether and a pleasingly unearthly air permeates. Next, ‘Colina’ reintroduces similar instrumentation to further conjure a compelling nursery rhyme/incantation over insistent hand drums and an unsettling combination of laughter and bells. This mix of beauty with the eerie is something that Nilson excels in, there are both shadows and dark corners amongst the sunlight and wildflowers here. Accordingly, the pagan ‘And From His Blood, The Crops Would Spring’ starts with the sound of a choir not dissimilar to that heard at the start of the folk horror TV staple The Children Of The Stones, before transmuting unexpectedly into an otherworldly Tiki supernatural surf number, replete with male harmonies and a taste of sci-fi.

On paper this sounds like such a genre leap should jar, but it undoubtedly works. ‘The Dancing Plague’ follows, its medieval harp and squeezebox laments suggesting a bubonic jig through cobbled streets, the melodies delighting in their sinister and spectral waltz. ‘Different Channels’ plaintive recorder and field recordings of a running stream then draw us back into the safety of the forest, a wyrd symphony reminiscent of the melancholic and baroque folk of the likes of Dulcimer, Forest or Mellow Candle. Electronic squelches appear, providing a heartbeat that is accompanied by choral touches and strummed zither. ‘Channel No2’ is a carnivalesque procession, perhaps heralding the coming of a Jack in the Green or ritual figure, as recorders, flutes and drums come together in joyful unison. One can almost see the crowds, hear the celebratory cheers and cries. This then leads us into ‘Floresta’, a suitably shimmering and bewitching finale that hints at a sepia and golden past with its laidback acoustic strumming and mesmerising vocal chants, again with a hint of tropicana.

In short, ‘News From Nowhere’ succeeds in being a timeless recording; future listeners will pick this up and will have to guess at which period this album emerged. For those of us who are beholden to the likes of The Incredible String Band or Mr Fox there is a great deal to adore here. And yet there is also the personal, unusual and welcome touches that enhance and transport, such as the slivers of vintage electronica, subtly placed samples and 50s surf elements. And the album is all the better for this as, whilst being its own unique creation and certainly not a relic or a contrivance, ‘News From Nowhere’ takes the best and most colourful from the past and marries this successfully to a more modern approach and sensibility. In hauntological terms the past may well be haunting the future, but in this case it is in a manner that enhances, benefits and goes beyond.

New From Nowhere is available now as a download and limited edition cassette from Nilson’s Bandcamp page here

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