Epitaph draws from the same sound palette as Oneohtrix Point Never’s R Plus Seven and Giant Claw’s Dark Web but it doesn’t shoot for the kaleidoscopic grandeur of the former or the plunderphonics frenzy of the latter. Instead, Nico Callaghan aka Nico Niquo keeps things relatively neat. He feels right at home on Orange Milk Records but he utilizes this retro-futuristic pastiche to draw out the soft beauty of its glossy, pristine sound. On opener “Maru Dai Dawn”, arpeggiated chords glide over new age-inspired synths and it sounds more Dire Dire Docks than Glass or Reich. There’s a delicate sensitivity to it, and it’s a trait that permeates all of Epitaph. Perhaps it’s expected on something like the title track—a shimmering, four-minute ambient meditation—but the album’s busier moments aren’t much different. On “Pandimension”, he dips his toes into post-Classical Curves grime but the stomping bass drum and shattering glass never overwhelm the listener; the song’s tone stays decidedly serious but its introspective spirit is never lost. There’s a smidge of jungle influence on the song too, and it’s something that eventually gets fleshed out on album closer “Not Here”. Callaghan starts the song with crystalline keys and builds on them with a warbling bassline and a high-pitched melody that pans back and forth. With these pieces in place, the breakbeat cuts right through the middle and feels unusually appropriate. It happens elsewhere on the record too, most notably with the stock music-y jazz piano on “Beyond AD”. It all just shows how well Callaghan can recontextualize these different elements into his own singular vision. And it’s ultimately what makes Epitaph such a cohesive and satisfying album.
[note: this mini-review originally appeared in a multi-part post recounting my ten favorite records of February]