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Dan Nicholls: Ruins

Bruce Lindsay By

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Ruins is the debut release from keyboardist and composer Dan Nicholls. Nicholls is based in London, where he is a member of the ever-fascinating Loop Collective. He's declared that his music is inspired, at least in part, by "prevalent issues" such as the Arab Spring—a quick check of the song titles, or a glance at the cover design, suggest that there are some pretty heavy prevalent issues under consideration here.

The themes may be heavy, but the music is seldom as downbeat or gloomy as the titles might suggest. Over tapes of what might be marketplace conversations (the field recordings are resolutely lo-fi) "Blinkers" gets things under way with a mid-tempo calmness. The tempo builds slowly, the calmness replaced by repetitive, looping, quietly desperate horn lines underpinned by Dave Smith's forceful percussion.

"Chaos Happens" shifts the mood once more, its flowing rhythm evoking the everyday activity of a big city rather than the chaos of the title. "The Scrolling Banner" has an edge of mystery that's heightened in "Ruins." We're in slightly darker territory now, the music's spookiness and use of electronics harking back to '60s horror movies—Hammer Films crossed with the soundtracks of Krzysztof Komeda perhaps. Beautifully atmospheric.

The mystery continues—"Withdrawal" features the album's spookiest sounds before James Allsopp and Shabaka Hutchings bring some welcome lightness and Smith gets funky, then the charmingly odd "Voice Intercepts" pops up with Ruins' most upbeat sound. Just when a pair of dancing shoes might be in order, "idontknow" brings the mystery back. The music—possibly a Nicholls solo performance—reflects the title's rather resigned and pessimistic tone, but it has its own meditative beauty.

Track Listing: Blinkers; Chaos Happens; The Scrolling Banner; Ruins...; ...missing in action; Withdrawal; Strobes On The Ascent; Voice Intercepts; idontknow.

Personnel: Dan Nicholls: Fender Rhodes, wurlitzer piano, organ, tapes, Roland sh-101; James Allsopp: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Shabaka Hutchings: bass clarinet; Kit Downes: organ; Dave Smith: drums; Tom Challenger: alto clarinet (1, 2).

Title: Ruins | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Loop Records

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