After splitting from Mercury-nominated modern jazz collective Portico Quartet in 2011, Nick Mulvey’s solo career has gone from strength to strength. His dextrous musicality and yearning songwriting over two EPs have seen him hotly tipped by appearances on BBC’s Sound of 2014 longlist and tours with Laura Marling (not to mention being featured on this site last year). On his debut full-length First Mind, Mulvey stakes his claim with a softly-spoken meditative work.
Informed by his experiences touring the world over a decade and studying music in Havana and London, Mulvey’s songs blend western and world music influences into a distinct musical voice. ‘Juramidam’s driving polyrhythmic guitar figure echoes African rhythms while the lilting strumming of ‘Meet Me There’ belies more Celtic leanings. While Mulvey’s guitar and laconic vocals hold centre stage, understated accompaniments of percussion, synths and strings breathe life into his compositions. Murmuring background noises give ‘April’ the eerie air of a ghost story and strings add drama to uplifting ballad ‘Fever To The Form’, indicating that Mulvey’s strength lies in creating atmospheric melodies that pull you in.
Although seven of the twelve tracks on offer here have appeared previously as singles or EP tracks, First Mind is artfully weaved together into a gentle, consistent whole. Having said that, many of these tracks are different versions to the ones previously available and suggests that Mulvey is something of a perfectionist. Not necessarily a bad trait for an artist to have, but some of the revisions here rein in the infectious eagerness of the originals, leaving them slightly anaemic. Mulvey’s restrained vocals can also occasionally fail to push the songs to their potential heights; floating inches off the ground, but not quite soaring.
What his vocals can lack in strength and resonance though, is made up for by the swirling imagery he delivers in his lyrics. Pastoral images of plants and waterways suffuse First Mind and eddy around human relationships, as on ‘Ailsa Craig’: ‘I know you know the rushes call me on with words that you said, tying me down to the river bed’. The shifting perspectives and cyclical nature of D.H. Lawrence inspired ‘Cucurucu’ are as intriguing as the song’s hook is catchy, but Mulvey is equally comfortable speaking directly on Dylanesque ballad ‘I Don’t Want To Go Home’.
First Mind may initially wash over the listener, but it rewards repeated listens and marks Mulvey out as not your average minstrel. A slowburning delight for long summer nights of contemplation, leading through to greeting the early morning sun.
First Mind is available now through Fiction and Nick Mulvey will embark on a world tour this summer.