Nico Lahs - Freedom (Adeen, 2020)
Nico Lahs comes into his own on his long awaited and beautifully considered debut LP, where numerous musical notions collide to produce one of the year’s finest albums.
When referencing the past, it is important to delve deep to the root of it all, but always keep half a mind to how the trends and the stylings can be reimagined for the present day. For the past few years now, an exceedingly large number of producers have used the past as a gold mine for ideas and concepts, some of which serve up moments of sheer brilliance, and do much to push the scene forward. Sometimes it comes across as a mere novelty, a flash in the pan that serves the surface level interest but never really inspiring people to go back and find out about our favourite musicians heroes. These days, it’s hard to not easily come across new music that spends a lot of time referencing 90s styles, and the end product can often be very spread out in terms of effectiveness and delivery. However, you will certainly come across producers and groups who spend the time really exploring these genres, utilising their curiosities to maximum impact in order to lift the essence and the techniques and draft up a new blue print for which to work from. These bridges that start to form begin to construct the connections that have been forged from the passions for the past, the musician’s interpretation blossoming from their abilities to craft soundscapes which build that link the golden age to ours. And from this connection, we find ourselves aligning within the story, an invitation to come inside and dwell within this world where influences and names begin to pop into our heads. You hear the nods to obvious influences, the vocal samples, the key progressions, but most importantly for these sorts of tunes to be successful, they have to capture the vibe. The vibe is the spirit that links the times in history, the identity of the scene, the features that we use to merge the dots together. For those who achieve this kind of impact, you know you are listening to someone who really understands and was willing to immerse themselves in the ideals of the past, where living within this world for them meant that their abilities to recreate that same feeling within their own music is justified and powerful. In relation to all the music being released these days that retains a referential element to them, we are always drawn to those who achieve this kind of feeling, a total dedication to their cause that retains our engagement, keeping alive the ideals of the past but always serving up these beautiful moments that drive genres onwards and upwards.
For a while now, Nicola Loporchio has been channelling these kinds of energies, not just through one but many names and mediums. As the founder of Cosmic Rhythm, the Bari based dream house label, his touch can be found on nearly every release, either releasing by himself or within groups with likeminded individuals and friends, it’s a label that has endeared itself enormously to the deep house community. This has been achieved by a near obsessive dedication to the sounds that the label is looking to evoke in the listener, where 90s tendencies are respected and the craft man ship in regards to production and emotional depth are maintained and respected. Whilst perhaps his work with the label is the most well-known, Loporchio has a back catalogue that almost remains endless, operating under names such as Nico Lahs, Minimorph and Cosmic Garden, with his varying musical passions showcased brilliantly within these releases. As Nico Lahs, he has been exploring the ideals of contemporary house, with each record a fascinating story through the groove and how it interacts with melodic features. The fullest spectrum of riddims was explored under this name, from more acid tinged progressive tunes, to rhythmic minimal, and fuller melodic sounds that evolve and evoke in equal measure. His Cosmic Garden name has developed very much in the life span of the Cosmic Rhythm label, with the music put out under this name a true blend of 90s house sounds, lovingly curated and produced to give over an experience that is evocative, sultry and emotional. Factoring in his Cosmic Rhythm works, it’s an impressive array of sounds, a vibrant exploration of a multitude of past scenes and forays into the current musical landscape, in many ways becoming more and more connected with the past. His musical outputs on Cosmic Rhythm are numerous and bountiful, as he is a member of B.U.M., D38 Authority, Galaxy87, KETAMA, Loss of Gravity, Mediterranean Key Collective, Raw Joints, Rydm Sectors and XPRESSION, so our advice is to merely take an afternoon stroll through some of the most spellbinding and enriching house you could ever dream of. The stuff of legends. Loporchio has truly dived deep into the sounds, with his varied discography giving over the impression that this is a man on a mission, to delve deep and establish connections within both what the present day is crafting, but being bold enough to draw from the never ending well of historical brilliance to conjure up cuts that both honour and fuse at the same time.
So now we arrive at his latest effort as Nico Lahs, his debut LP under the name, 'Freedom'. Five years have passed since his previous effort under this name, during which the man founded Cosmic Rhythm and has seemingly placed all of his energies into the label and its dynamic sound. However, a trip to the States last year did a number over Lah's creativeness, his immersion in the scenes there allowing for a new chapter to open up in the alia's history. The sounds contained within this record speak of the jazzy deep house greats of the 90s, where the combining of live drumming sounds with sultry keys, looping vocal samples and the concept of improvisation always around the corner joined forces to breathe new life into the genre. This is a time period beloved by many, and much like with Cosmic Rhythm Lahs does an exceptional job in creating those connections to the past. A homage founded on emotion and passion, a fundamental understanding that runs right through to the very core of the record, with so much goodness rising out of every facet. Five years is quite a time to wait, but here we are blessed with an exceptional record from a very talented and knowledgable producer indeed. So lets take a dip.
Up first comes the title track, and we begin in a proper straight up live jazz bar sort of environment. The bass line moves in and around the light but increasingly developing drum beat, as the track hits its stride with flair and ambition. The track has this lovingly curated feel to it, the backdrop of which is these light and airy chords, drifting around the back of the composition, which keeps the track moving and grooving forward. The drums pull away for a minute, as the beautiful harmonic lead we were all waiting for slides into view, and it’s quite the moment. The building and layering of energies were slow and steady, but timed and executed just right, the track never losing sight of its goals. The vocal sample ‘Doesn’t matter where you come from, we are all free’ then rings out across the track, a fantastic narrative frame that really draws us into the tune. As an opener, you can’t really do much better. Up next comes ‘A Beautiful Thing’, and the drums open up proceedings once more. This time the feel is slightly more high octane, the kick and accompanying percussive elements graceful move through the motions, with the light key work permeating through when needed. Then comes the bass line, fluidly moving through the lines with ease, before it gets joined by the lush and vibrant key work. The track has this amazing swing to it, the keys and drums singing to each other, crafting a back and forth notion that gives over so much. We get very much immersed within the depths, our essence interlinking itself with that of the track, the movements between structures and arrangements strengthening the bond. Now in full swing, the key work does the most to push forward the evolutions, with vocal samples slotting themselves in at just the right times, the drums also switching between more full percussive affairs and then lighter patterns. What a tune. Next up comes ‘Never Come’, and we can already feel the emotions simmering on this one. What begins as the chordal progressions moving fluidly between the lines evolves into the silky piano line that radiates within the structure, before the vocal line hits home in all the right ways. The looping reverb of it gives the track a real dynamism, its movement through the tones one of deep house majesty and mastery. The flow into the vocals being allowed to run through some full lines keeps the narrative very strong indeed, before the track sees the piano keys responding with their own words, the blend between the two explored so beautifully. ‘Can’t Get Enough’ comes along next, and we begin once more with the drums and the loops of the keys. The track steadily opens itself up, with the swift transition into the fullness immediate and encompassing, the depths crafted just asking for us to take a dip within its world. The intro of the looping guitar sample swell underneath, hinting at their imminent arrival, the feverish levels of energy that continually builds something to really marvel at. What transpires next is quite wonderful indeed, the guitar work blended together to create this sense of someone singing, but indeed it’s the guitar all this time, and when it is released into the track in full, we are all for it, hooked completely. The track grooves between intensities, where the build ups to the more expansive parts keep the energy levels up very high indeed, our interest never for one second slowing down, our invested passion in the tune never extinguishing for one minute. Bliss.
Next arrives ‘Inside Your Love’, and immediately we enter a new kind of sound. The drumming before remains very much an element that lead the flows throughout the tracks, but here we are greeted with an explosive and driving pattern that grabs us from the off. Before long, the drums are accompanied by some soft chords that move around on top, never needing yet to overdo it, just softly groove to the rhythms of life. The kicks fade away to reveal the vocal sample, speaking gently in the distance, which is the signal for the harmonies to double down and become more melodically rich and complex. The track is very much dance floor orientated, but looks to combine all those emotional tools utilised in the previous cuts within a beat that is relentless and all encompassing. Groover. Next comes ‘Call Me’, and the energy levels move down a notch, just slightly, with the riddims flowing gently with each passing minute. In the backdrop, the arpeggio sequences wait patiently for their time to come, as the drumming looks to advance itself via the introductions of little toms and kicks. Then out of the noise comes the deeeeepest of chords, cutting right through the middle of the track, creating that emotive platform for every element to then respond to. The vibe then smoothly flows into the vocal sample, that rebounds and grooves so perfectly alongside the ever moving and grooving keys. The track has already done the business, all it needs to do now is keep us bound to it, and the tune does a brilliant job at it. ‘Deep Da Futa’ comes next, and we begin in similar sweet territories. The beat is full and strong, the keys and strings on top envelop so perfectly, as the bass pounds through the middle with all the verve and swagger. As the drums recede for a moment, the deep pad aligns itself with the track, flowing over everything in sight, the construction of the track allowing us to really get within and reside in its world. Deep house never felt so pure. Finally, we arrive at ‘Nu Frontiers’, and we begin with the all too familiar sounds of lively drumming patterns. The drums begin their evolution, the kicks grooving underneath as the backdrop of swirling sounds give the track a vibe of vitality and vibrancy. The bass line subtly slides into the mix, moving within the dense drumming patterns, as the key sequence begins to work its magic, soft and subtle but obvious and full of flavour. The track began life with the drums, the chords then joined, and this remains its formula, never needing to outdo itself or over stretch, it simply needs to retain this magical sense of depth and mystique. About 4 minutes in, there is some variations with chordal stabs, and from there the tracks melodies evolve and groove, with additional pads in the back just adding more beauty to it all. A fitting end to a stunning record.
In Nicola Loporchio’s eyes, this album was born from the deep connections he felt when in the States in relation to his home town of Bari, and the historical infatuation he has for the days of electronica gone by. He applied his love for the past and flowed it into this record, a homage of enormity to the deep house scenes of the late 90s, and by applying his understandings of these genres, has crafted something with such passion and beauty. A true triumph, the record is one that will resonate enormously with fans of 2000Black, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Warren Harris, Moodymann, Andrés and so on, and with those who care about how the past and the present intersect. From these kinds of records, we see a future emerge, and Loporchio is one with an eye for the future. A stunner, in every sense of the word.
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A wonderful interview with the man himself can be found here, which covers the new record amongst other musical discussions: