When thinking of veteran artists on Warp Records, you probably recall IDM legends like Autechre, Plaid or Aphex Twin, but the smoked-out beats of Nightmares on Wax have been there since the very beginning, in 1989. Back then, it was all sample-heavy stoner jams, while now — well, you're still reaching for the bong, but the whole affair sounds a lot more like a full band than a man and his MPC.
This isn't much of a surprise, though, as NoW have been progressively sounding more live and polished for a few years now. Feelin' Good, in 2013, saw a move towards more collaborations, both vocal and instrumental, a tactic that's even further embraced on Shape the Future.
The album opens with some soothing musings on togetherness and the interconnection of all things from Kuauhtli Vasquez, Spiritual Chief of the Teokalli Quetzalcoatl Native American Church. It's a positive start to an undeniably positive album. Later on, NoW employs a subtle jazzy backdrop and the soulful vocals of Jordan Rakei to keep the good vibes rolling. Even as the album tumbles into hip-hop with "Citizen Kane (Rap Version)," featuring Mozez and Winnipeg rapper Allan Kingdom, it's still as cheerful as can be. "Tenor Fly" marks the only sombre note on the record: it's named after a British MC who passed away in 2016, so the eerie keys and scattered percussion are par for the course.
Apart from that though, it's a regular day at the beach. Instrumental tracks "On It Maestro," "The Other Ship" and "Gotta Smile" all have that smooth fusion of reggae, jazz, trip-hop, and world music that NoW are known for. Granted, they've jettisoned a lot of the subsonic grittiness found on classics like In A Space Outta Sound, but that's made up for in the form of slick orchestration. What was once something to blast on your bedroom speakers is now crying out for a live performance with a nine-piece band, which, if nothing else, shows a maturity in sound. (Warp)