Nick Nicely


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You might have thought it would take some doing to conjure a full-length Nick Nicely compilation, given that he put out just two singles. This 18-track, 66-minute release, however, manages to put one together without seeming like it's stretching things, including all four songs from those two singles; two tracks, "6 B. Obergine" and "On the Coast," that almost appeared on singles; and a dozen previously unreleased recordings from 1978 all the way up to 2004. It's a mighty quirky listen, more consistent than one would guess, but occupying an out-of-time notch in its combination of 1967- to 1968-sounding British psychedelic tricks with aspects of post-1980 production and electronics. You wouldn't as casually mistake these for actual 1960s archive recordings as you might, say, the Dukes of Stratosphear; the ambience is too modern in some ways. Nicely's songs are audibly influenced by Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd and the 1967 Beatles in their English melodies and paeans for fantasy-like states, but perhaps equally informed by all those obscure British acts that have filled up U.K. '60s psych rarities compilations from the time of Chocolate Soup for Diabetics onward. What's strangest, though, is that Nicely seems to have taken the aural embellishments of those recordings -- the phasing, the weird swathes of electronic manipulation, the melancholic buzzing orchestral waves of keyboards/guitars/strings, the underwater- and outer space-beamed vocals, the scraps of distant spoken phrases -- without matching the strong songs that were at the core of the best British psychedelia. Nicely's actual singing and words are often submerged and indistinct, for one thing, but there's also an overall air of clouded disengagement and retreat into an impenetrable imaginary world, which makes his work less gripping than that of the best astral minstrels of yore. If those embellishments are enough for you, this is ear candy, with a lot of dense layers of sound that take a while to get your mind around, even if it's sometimes like being caught in a hallucinogenic crossfire. Incidentally, though the single "Hilly Fields (1892)" is what's gotten Nicely the most ink, it's not necessarily the standout item here; it could fairly be argued that its B-side, "49 Cigars," is better.

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