The latest release from Bristol tech geek Nick Edwards may well be his best yet
How do you avoid your sound getting stale after more than 20 years of creating music? Perhaps it helps if you never really put it out there in the first place. If you’re Ekoplekz, aka Bristol producer Nick Edwards, the answer seems to lie in taking a very extended sabbatical.
Starting out in 1988 with a cheap tape player and a Casio keyboard, Nick Edwards grafted throughout the next decade to try to get his music heard, but to little avail. Deflated, he pretty much ceased his attempts. He was revitalised by the chance discovery of an old 70s Echo organ in a charity shop many years later and put out his first Ekoplekz 12-inch in 2010.
Since then, he’s been releasing material at a phenomenal rate and his early 2014 debut on Planet Mu, ‘Unfidelity’, marked an important turning point. Crucially, label head Mike Paradinas took charge of assembling and sequencing the running order, resulting in Edwards’ most coherent statement yet.
‘Reflekzionz’ is Edwards’ third album on Planet Mu. It’s a stubborn beast and difficult to categorise, drawing in equal measures from dub, early 90s rave and IDM, as well as Bristol’s contemporary bass scene. It’s possibly his most accessible release, yet it sticks firm to certain gritty underground values. Working with the same four-track he’s had since around 2001, Edwards revels in the possibilities of randomness afforded to him by his all-analogue set-up. Even though ‘Reflekzionz’ feels cleaner than his previous work, there’s usually something slightly “off” about these recordings.
This intangible quality is accentuated by the superb mixing. The tracks seem to occupy a vast space, with sound oozing over contours and bubbling up again from the swampy depths. ‘Saturation (Full Rinse)’ fades in on rolling rave beats and a surprisingly optimistic chord progression, with quiet vocal samples nestled delicately at the centre. You’re bound to keep hearing new things even after repeated listens.
One of the album’s real strengths lies in its finely developed sense of melody. Themes force their way through the murk, before inevitably being submerged again. Patience is key to Edwards’ approach – a willingness to let melodic ideas unspool gradually, or to introduce them very late on. ‘Canon’s March’ has this particularly mournful, elegiac quality to it, while ‘Seduktion’ is built around a progression of kosmische radar bleeps.
There’s definitely a strong Aphex influence at play here. The opener, ‘A Caustic Romance’, nails that old RDJ trick of contrasting beauty with rawness, as a fragile musical box motif flutters over percussion that sounds like a spluttering cement mixer. Even the title of ‘Black Calkz’ would fit right in on ‘Selected Ambient Works’, although it actually has more of a post-punk influence, coming off like Liars or fellow Bristolians The Pop Group.
‘Reflekzionz’ is more than just a good starting point for the unconverted. It’s a career highlight for Nick Edwards and is easily a match for ‘Unfidelity’. Here’s hoping his work rate stays strong and his purple patch will continue to lead us further down the rabbit hole.