Serene dreams

Scoping out George Evelyn's Nightmares On Wax ruminations

Leeds, U.K., native and Ibiza, Spain, resident George Evelyn has recorded lush and laidback beats for two decades as Nightmares on Wax. As British tastemaker label Warp's longest-serving artist, he's shared space on their roster with Autechre, Aphex Twin, and Squarepusher. But in stark contrast to his labelmates' hectic, densely layered electronic productions, Evelyn's music sonically embodies the phrase, "Let's just chill a moment." And despite his scary moniker, most of what Evelyn creates will induce sweet daydreams.

String pad– and Rhodes-soaked numbers like "Calling," from his sixth and newest album, Thought So (Warp, 2008), unfold methodically, weaving rich synth layers together with jazzy loops before a slow-burning beat drops down without fanfare. The result is soothing, headphone-friendly songs that stand out among electronic music's more conceited and bombastic projects.

Written mostly in an RV while moving from Leeds to Ibiza, Thought So rides on a broad variety of lazy beats and sumptuous songs that lounge comfortably at 84 beats per minute. "Moretime" is built on raw, funky loops that recall Cut Chemist or Quantic, while "Still? Yes?" meshes thick breakbeats and reggae snippets à la local beatmaster Romanowski. The aforementioned "Calling" also resembles Evelyn's most notable track, "Nights Interlude," from Smokers Delight (Warp, 1995). The former follows an almost identically melodious composition trajectory but drifts dangerously towards wanky smooth jazz before Evelyn reels it back in. This quality of sonic consistency and balance has obviously bolstered NOW's longevity.

Evelyn and Kevin Harper conceived NOW in 1988. Harper split a few years later before Smokers Delight became one of the most successful downtempo chill-out albums ever. Like other mid-1990s trip-hop material by Massive Attack, DJ Shadow, or Mighty Bop, NOW's blueprint encompassed thick dub bass, hip-hop drum programming, soulful loops, samples, and velvety keyboard embellishments. So does it still sound as fresh 15 years later?

In Evelyn's hands it does. He has evolved and enlisted great vocalists such as Chyna Brown, Ella May, Mozez, and Ricky Ranking, several of whom appear on the recent album's best tracks. Evelyn and a full band including keyboardist Robin Taylor-Firth, guitarist Chris Dawkins, drummer Ize, and bassist Hamlet Luton touch down at the Independent Feb. 4 for a show that'll remind folks that slow-mo music is good for the soul. Let's hope they showcases gems such as "Damn" from 2006's In a Space Outta Sound (Warp) and the Rankin' toast "195 Lbs" from the latest full-length.


Wed/4, 9 p.m., $15


628 Divisadero

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