Album review: Nilson – Here & Now

Album artwork

Words by Grey Malkin

It has been two years since Barcelona-based German musician, Nilson, released the haunting, acid folk hued ‘News From Nowhere’ (reviewed here at MOOF), a strikingly creative and inspired work that blended newly recorded music with samples from obscure and long lost albums from the 60s and 70s. This approach resulted in arguably one of the most impressive and immersive albums in the psychedelic landscape for many a year.  It was therefore a joy to hear that that not only was a new uttering ‘Now & Then’, imminent, but that it followed the idiosyncratic but hugely successful recording approach taken by its predecessor. Happily, it feels satisfying to further report that ‘Now & Then’ is an equal to ‘News from Nowhere’ and then some. A heady mix of psych and chamber folk, BBC Radiophonic Workshop electronica, Oliver Postgate-type children’s TV Themes (such as Bagpuss or The Pogles), found dialogue from Public Information Films and musique concrete, this is a remarkable and consistently enthralling piece of work.

Beginning with the MR James inspired ‘Who is this that is coming’, the song’s Wicker Man descending harp notes merge with the sound of the sea and gulls, whilst noirish electronics conspire to create a sense of pleasant unease, a gentle eeriness.  A snapshot or blurred photograph of a haunted moment in time, it swiftly leads into the album’s title track, in which an archival recording of an educational schools record is joined by a spectral choir and ominous ritual drumbeats to suggest that this may be a school in the Village of the Damned or Summerisle itself. ‘Lifting the Veil’ presents glistening harp arpeggios, declamatory brass, swathes of sitar, analogue synths and a drum backbeat that hints at various junctures at the hauntological reportage of Broadcast, the sinister whimsy of Nurse With Wound and the analogue workshop electronica of Paddy Kingsland or Delia Derbyshire.

The rustic woodwind of ‘Fantasia on a Theme’ and the field recorded jig and reel of ‘Around the Village Green’ are sepia hued memories of a time now gone, evocative of the 70s and the folk rock revival of ‘Liege & Lief’ or ‘Morris On’.‘Down In The Garden’ by turn is an icy, Nico-esque take on the traditional ‘Christmas Is Now Drawing Near’ as sung by the Watersons, Nilson duetting with the archival voice of a female folk singer in a manner that feels seamless, authentic and timeless. ‘Communal Luxury’ takes a further twist sideways with a dynamic and classic folk pop song, albeit one that starts with a foghorn warning of brass, prior to settling into a vibraphone and table based hushed and handclapped melody. This is not to suggest that ‘Now & Then’ is a disparate collection of wildly different styles or themes; rather it holds together as a fluid and coherent album, the vintage electronics and folk stylings hanging together perfectly. These genres do seem to be easy bedfellows, the output of the A Year In The Country or Ghost Box labels attest to the close affiliation that folk and electronics enjoy, perhaps due to these particular strains both being heavily influenced by their 60’s/70’s counterparts and so feeling like they come from a similar reference point.  

As if to emphasise this sense of bucolic electronica, ‘Intermission’s gorgeously warm acoustic fingerpicking and chimed bells leads directly into ‘No Short Cut’, whereupon clipped and sampled vintage electronics are overlaid with pulsing bass and spoken excerpts from old public information films (the type that used to exhort children not to throw frisbees at powerlines or play on railway tracks). ‘Jungle of Disgrace’ adds to this tapestry of curiosity; autoharp and dripping electronic arpeggios are laced with beguiling woodwind and backwards guitar. Nilson is astute and gestalt minded enough to then follow this with the melodic and effortlessly catchy ‘Unused Cue’, where he sings of descending into ‘the phantasmagoric forest’. This careful placing of left-field or experimental pieces with more conventional sung works reminds (as does Nilson’s warmly enunciated or phrased vocals) of Brian Eno, providing a welcome and constantly intriguing sequencing that surprises, holds rapt attention and ensures that all the album’s strengths are equally played to. We therefore have the nostalgic folk chimes and melodica of the instrumental ‘Winstanley’ sitting contentedly beside ‘The World Went Out Of Tune With Itself’, sampling Bach’s ‘Toccata in D Minor’ with insistent kettle drums and a hauntingly beautiful zither melody that takes us from Rollerball to Summerisle and back again. Both ‘Menschen und Wind’ and closer ‘City 2000’ reference John Barry in their heavily reverbed harpsichord atmospherics and are by turn hypnotic, thrilling and bewitching. Indeed, throughout ‘Here & Now’ there is often a strong cinematic flavour, the shift in genres or tone accentuating a change in some unwritten ‘folk horror noir’ movie.

Available as a download and fine looking cassette (with badge) from Nilson’s Bandcamp page, ‘Here & Now’ is clearly a labour of love, of care, attention to detail, and sheer enjoyment in creating what is a wonder room of sound. The joy is that this translates easily to the listener; this is a hugely evocative and transportive musical journey, one that you can return to the start of immediately and sojourn again, the twists, turns and contours proving beguilingly addictive and intriguing. ‘Here & Now’ is where you want to be.

Purchase Here & Now on limited edition cassette here

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