One of the greatest things about music, and the artists who make the music, is their ability to give. Hear me out here: music gives its listeners something that we can enjoy, or perhaps on a deeper level, use to help us make meaning of our surroundings. Musicians (and here I speak of true artists) give their voice to the world, often acting as our modern-day storytellers. But what I find most impressive is when musicians give a spotlight to other musicians.
Ben Lamdin, better known as Nostalgia 77, is remarkable at repeatedly giving the spotlight to new artists, helping them share their voice with the world. For example, he put many casual jazz fans onto Lizzy Parks and Keith and Julie Tippett. And for his fourth Nostalgia 77 album, he does it again – this time allowing German songstress, Josa Peit, to take center stage. It’d be overkill to ramble off the names that Ben has worked with and shared his spotlight with, which is one of the reasons it makes it difficult to fathom that this, The Sleepwalking Society, can possibly be just his fourth studio album as Nostalgia 77.
Fresh off of his Skeletons afrobeat side project from 2010, Ben maintains a bit of this world influence for Sleepwalking. In fact, there is a curious amalgam of all sorts of influences here – from afrobeat to deep funk, to jazz, electronic and hip-hop – Ben and Josa blend it all into a spectacular nine-song exhibition. Most notable is the album’s standout piece, “Blue Shadow”, which sets Josa Peit against light afrobeat percussion and sultry trumpets and horns. In fact, it would not be a stretch by any means to say that Peit sounds rather like Amy Winehouse in her vocals here – complete with the allure of lust and mystery.
Other tracks take on a more direct genre approaches. “Beautiful Life” is a pure jazz track – and an incredibly fine one at that. Meanwhile, “Mockingbird” takes a more folk-like stance, adding to the rustic feeling of the entire album. The production on the album is subtle, with the rewards lying in finite details. In other words, don’t come into this album expecting some big beat hip-hop mixed in – that’s just not what this one’s really about. All the while, Peit is in top form vocally, never missing a note.
Finally, it should be noted that this album is paced with incredible thought and care. Being that it is more suited for easy or nighttime listening, Sleepwalking ends appropriately with “Hush” – the most mellow and electronic track on the album. Beginning with a hint of ambience and the light pitter-patter of cymbals, the ambitious (eight minutes long) “Hush” slowly unfolds into one of the most rewarding listens on the album. And although this album’s impact is likely to be understated in the grand scheme of things, it is comfortable, warm, enchanting and bold all in one. Lamdin assembles another winner.