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Nathan Micay - The World I’m Going to Hell For Music Album Reviews

The Berlin-based producer swaps his habitually trance-fueled club anthems for an unusual fusion of filmic chamber strings and emotive bass music.

Twitter is full of odd confessions, but the rising dance producer Nathan Micay recently let slip that when he was 19 years old, the first track he ever finished was a bootleg jungle remix of indie-folk hero Sufjan Stevens. The combination of Sufjan Stevens and rollicking Amen breaks sounds ridiculous, but in Micay’s case, perhaps it’s not so surprising. Although he’s best known these days for sidewinding, richly melodic tracks that recall the glory days of trance and progressive house, including last year’s manga-inspired Blue Spring, the Berlin-based Canadian grew up playing banjo, violin, viola, and cello, and was part of a Toronto youth orchestra for many years. More recently, his Schvitz Edits imprint—one of three different record labels he heads up—kicked off its run with club-ready reworks of famed singer-songwriters Dr. John and Gordon Lightfoot.
On The World I’m Going to Hell For, his work has come full circle. Originally issued on a limited-edition cassette late last year, the LP was slated for a proper release this autumn, but once the COVID-19 crisis turned the world upside down, Micay decided to go ahead and put the album online as part of the most recent Bandcamp Friday. Unlike his recent output, The World I’m Going to Hell For almost completely abandons the dancefloor, opting instead for a more cinematic approach that folds in elements of ambient, IDM, and the more emotive corners of bass music.
Two years in the making, most of the album was created using only cello, viola, violin, and a distortion pedal, and that stripped-back approach lends the music both a classical sensibility and widescreen dimensions; only a handful of its 13 tracks feature substantial percussion. It’s still electronic music, but strings are the dominant element, and songs like “Natey, Get on Your Horse,” “For the Hawk of the Millennium Empire,” and “Never Rhythm Game” are the sort of melancholy vignettes that might soundtrack a particularly gut-wrenching scene of a film. More uplifting is “Billing Service,” which includes an unexpected vocal turn from Micay himself; it’s the closest he’s come to having an Arthur Russell moment, although his baritone also brings to mind 69 Love Songs-era Stephin Merritt.

The World I’m Going to Hell For, which Micay describes as his most overtly political effort to date—he calls it a response to the “outdated rhetoric spoken by outdated humans in power”—is meant to build upon the dystopian narrative he laid out with Blue Spring and its accompanying comic. But the closest spiritual analog in Micay’s back catalog is probably Capsule’s Pride, the Akira-themed album he released back in 2016 under the name Bwana. (Arguably the most famous anime of all time, Akira is also a story of rising up against government oppression.) Although Capsule’s Pride is more heavily steeped in club tropes and glossy synths than The World I’m Going to Hell For, the two releases share a filmic sensibility and showcase Micay’s talent for thinking bigger than the dancefloor.

Like all good soundtracks, The World I’m Going to Hell For is best consumed as a whole, but there are some clear highlights. With its gleaming synths and luxurious strings, “Who Shaves the Barber” has a playful pomp that wouldn’t be out of place at a regal garden party, while “If the World’s Still Here on Monday” offsets its brooding swagger with sparkling tendrils of melody. Lush album closer “V” is more subdued, but there’s a sense of majesty in its billowing atmosphere. There’s also something for the DJs: “Panz,” a breezy, twinkling house cut that wouldn’t be out of place on labels like Studio Barnhus or Mule Musiq.

Though the album predates the current pandemic, its reissue now, rushed out months ahead of schedule, gives Micay’s abrupt creative left turn new resonance. In the face of an uncertain future, many artists reflexively retreat to safety or indulge in clichéd tales of impending doom, but Micay has taken a different path. The World I’m Going to Hell For is a serious record, and there are moments of mourning and thoughtful introspection, but the music never falls into despair. It’s a hopeful exercise, and during a time when the whole world feels like it’s falling apart, there’s something uniquely powerful about Micay’s choice to let optimism light the way forward.

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