When you think of Los Angeles, what comes to mind? The blazing sun? Affluent attractive people shopping in designer shops? The Hollywood sign? But there is a flipside to that. A nocturnal LA where things are murky and lurid.
The twilight adventures of LA have been told countless times, from Short Cuts, Chinatown, to Drive to Bladerunner. Their scores evoked a poignancy and sadness that counterbalanced neon lights, late night debauchery and an underlying feeling of unease. These are some of the pervading themes on LA composer Nick Malkin’s debut album ‘A Typical Night in the Pit’.
After ditching his Afterhours moniker Malkin started making music under his own name. The first of these was ‘Christmas Lights Through a Rain-Streaked Migraine EP’ released on Anenon’s Non-Projects label. This laid the foundations of what was to come. Simple melancholy melodies coupled with field recording atmospherics and skittering electronic beats were underpinned by haunting sax.
From the opening moments you can tell this is a different Malkin. Instead of a stark introduction, Malkin opens the album with a rolling motif. This conjures up images of driving long roads, seemingly to nowhere. As ‘Intro/Exchange’ swells with constantly moving motifs, the tension starts to build until it gently comes to a stop. Has the car driven to its destination or is it just a quick stop for petrol?
The following track ‘Sixth Street Conversation’ implies the initial journey is over, and now we’ve stopped for a quick chat. Playful saxophones call and response with xylophones and synths. These opening tracks tell us everything we need to know about the album. There will be periods of intense energy, but this will be followed by delicate passages of tranquillity. Much like life in a real city.
At times ‘A Typical Night in the Pit’ feels like a prelude and sequel to Edward Hopper’s seminal 1942 Nighthawks painting. The opening tracks feel like the journey of how the characters made it to the dine. ‘Into the Light’93’ feels like a soundtrack to the painting itself, as the customers get a slight reprieve from the city while they eat.
The second side of the album, ‘Estacionamienton Privado’, tells the rest of their night through skittering electronics, romantic saxophones all underpinned by Malkin’s trademark melancholic melodies. However, unlike American Realism of Hopper, Malkin creates hazy sonic pictures that reflect what life could be, rather than a factual depiction of it.
And this is where the album excels. Like his old label boss Anenon, Malkin effortlessly creates feelings of languidly, ‘Some KJAZZ Eternity’, by using minimal MIDI jazz elements, but when he wants to flex his musical muscles, he’s capable of bring the house down.
The album's standout moment is ‘Estacionamienton Privado’. Its wonky synths stalk us throughout and the devastation bass-line feels like a car you just can’t shake in the rear-view mirror.
The pervading theme of the album is the city and especially night-time in a city. Malkin evokes this by having periods of very intense movement, juxtaposed by moments of halcyon jazz.
There is a hustle and bustle vibe, that evokes Vangelis’ exquisite ‘The City’ album as well as his scores, but this is more than a parody.
‘A Typical Night In The Pit’ features a rich tapestry of sounds that rewards more of its secrets on repeat listens, much like a city on repeat visits.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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