Having studied ethnomusicology at the University of London and performed in the jazz and world music infused ensemble, Portico Quartet, it is probably not too surprising that Nick Mulvey offers a slightly different take on the standard singer-songwriter sound. Sure, there’s plenty of acoustic guitar and lyrics that deal with the personal or political, but there are also plenty of non-western rhythms and adventurous compositional twists to prevent things from feeling like the same-old-same, and his début solo album – 2014’s First Mind – earning Mulvey a nomination for the Mercury Prize.
With his sophomore album, Wake Up Now, Mulvey provides a refinement of his earlier sound with modest augmentations. Opening track, Unconditional, establishes the record’s easy listening atmosphere with global musical influences delivering subtle tonal embellishments. Transform Your Game (We Remain) brings these influences closer to the fore, but also smartly utilizes compositional techniques – such as the use of wah and distortion on the guitar backing tracks to add texture – to achieve its outcomes, while Imogen makes good use of layered guitars.
Myela, the politically charged rumination on the refugee crisis which has Europe has found itself embroiled, employs solid and engaging melodies throughout, making for an excellent vessel for the track’s message. But despite Myela’s skilful musicality, there is something in Mulvey’s vocal delivery, something that escapes being pinned down and identified, which subtracts from the song’s appeal. This may simply be Mulvey’s vocals themselves, his particular inflections and accenting, which are consistent across the album but nonetheless never truly endear. Overall, Wake Up Now is pleasing to the ears but – with the exception of Myela – fails to impress itself into the mind beyond the immediate listening.