In a Silent Way by Nico Niquo (Review)

The gently unsettling aspects of Nico Niquo’s ambience makes it all the more beautiful and intriguing.
In a Silent Way - Nico Niquo

In a recent interview, Nico Callaghan — the twenty-something Australian behind Nico Niquo — offered a rationale of sorts for In a Silent Way: “I think it’s possible to make more evocative music in a slightly askew and odd sonic environment.” Put simply, there’s something disquieting about Nico Niquo’s retro-futuristic soundscapes, and that’s precisely what makes them so interesting and affecting.

Soft arpeggios and synthesizer swells lend In a Silent Way a vast, orchestral feel on songs like “Rendered,” which is aided by snippets of real instrumentation (e.g., clarinet, trumpet, saxophone, mallets). As a result, there are moments where the album seems headed for “New Age” territory. But Callaghan’s sense of pacing and melody causes the songs to move unpredictably, and gives the uniformly lovely music a slightly off-kilter, unsettling aura. (The title track is a fine example of this.)

Comparisons to Oneohtrix Point Never, Steve Hauschildt, Tangerine Dream, and even vaporwave are all warranted. But the most immediate touchpoint for me is Disasterpeace’s Hyper Light Drifter soundtrack. Hyper Light Drifter is set in a decaying yet oddly beautiful post-apocalyptic world, and Disasterpeace’s music conveys that world’s decay and wrong-ness in a fittingly elegiac and evocative manner.

Disasterpeace’s soundtrack is poignant, playful, eerie, and haunting all at once. Similarly, In a Silent Way’s too short (yet just right) 29 minutes is a fascinating, beguiling study in contrasts that reveals something new — and strangely beautiful — with each listen. Yes, it’s askew and odd, disquieting and unsettling, right up through “Aa-m”‘s final melancholy synth-sighs. But it’s no less a compelling album because of those qualities. Indeed, it’s a compelling listening experience, and one I’ve frequently revisited since its February release, precisely because of them.

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