Displaying an alarming case of taking your own sweet time, Niteworks finally deliver their first album, an object so long rumoured you began to wonder if it was, after all, just a figment of fevered anticipation. Still, here it is; NW sits staring at me across the study.
Flip back to 2011 and a debut EP awash with promise. Here was a band who didn’t just mash up electronics/club vibes with the nearest trad item to hand, rather carefully chosen snatched of age-old Gaelic melody, song and lore, were thoroughly blended so the modern complemented ancient in perfect balance. Clearly of the same mindset as the late, much missed Martyn Bennett, NW is, contemporary music born of the Highlands and Islands; this is endemic, this is now, just as much as that boring hip-hop, sould-lite derivative you’ll work out to at the gym. In fact you could well say it’s more relevant. Niteworks DJ and remix to countless across Scotland, turning club nights into a reminder of a history/culture beyond the dance floor. The Gaels retain that inherent identity so much of our nation has lost, the Victorian oppression dished out during the Clearances has left its mark. Somhairle samples poet Sorley McLean, declaring the present population bred for emigration, through a loop and vocoder. If that was the case in his day, Runrig changed perception, Niteworks continue the fight back.
NW is an album of cooperation as the main quartet are filled out with the guest vocalists delivering the rootsier elements. Maraiche provides washes around Kathleen MacInnes’s traditional vocal with gurgles, bounces and echoes creating a shifting fog. Taobh Abhainn is more restless, an insistent beat urges Alasdair Whyte’s mouth music to a real on the fiddle and harder rhythmic slaps. In the midst of all the electronic storm there’s a pipe and violin duet which is delivered as straight folk, though the opener Beul na h-Oidhchce sets out their stall right under your nose, quiet beginnings build through intertwining rhythms mashing up the pumping beats, a whoosh, whirl, tinny percussion before pipes deliver a Hamish Moore reel over layered synths and sheer bravado.
As if wanting to prove their more mainstream credentials Laura Donnelly rides the pulsating vibe of Anais Mitchell’s Coming Down. Gloriously ambient it rises on an ocean of harmonies as the band create a near symphony. “Nothing’s going to stop me now,” she purrs and my money’s on the band having the same philosophy.
An absorbing album, be assured it has hidden depths and its bolder elements will send tingles down your spine. More than first meets the ear.
Simon Jones – fRoots Magazine (June 2016, No.396)