Nix Northwest - Life's a Bitch, I Just Need an Early Night [Album Review]
"It changed me", Nix Northwest told us as we spoke to him after his gig, wrapping up our first live show back post-Covid, and marking the dawn of a new era of gigs and live music. You can watch our full interview with Nix covering this and a whole host of other musical topics. What he was referring to though, of course, was the creation of his debut EP, Life's a Bitch, I Just Need an Early Night.
Nix's reflection, this profound theory of change that he said the EP catalysed, is packaged in something characteristically short, sweet, and modest. Yet, during the show, songs would often be introduced as a utility to get things off the chest, reconcile with emotion, and try and understand the harshness of the world the best you can. Pleasingly, he was speaking in the past-tense. Making this EP, like he said, changed him.
So it's in this frame that we listen to Life's a Bitch, I Just Need an Early Night: catharsis. This is a body of music that, in all its glory, is Nix hanging it out to dry, with what is at times a beautiful raw nature, that can only be spawned having felt, lived, and just about gotten through those circumstances. Those circumstances are ones that all of us, sadly, can feel some kind of affinity with.
Anyway, onto the music.
Track 1 - Early Rising
We pick our words carefully, just as we see Nix will do in this song and further, when we say that it feels like this track introduces us to the EP and the music that is about to follow. In some ways this track feels out of the canon of the EP, speaking in a meta way about what is about to follow (these words I use as a weapon). In places, you similarly feel like this is more than a narrative being built, with Nix talking directly to the listener in preparation of that and of the incoming content of the story (forgive me for all of my wishes), but we get the sense that there will be no forgiving needed.
The cadence of the song changes often, and at times in listening you have to work to jump onto the rhythm with Nix, but this seems like a conscious choice, representative perhaps of the scattered state of thoughts the persona paints. In that same representation we hear Nix jump from notions that are positive to negative almost immediately ('ladies and gents I'm here to provide you with reason // at times I hid all my feelings, it led me to being fiendish) and it leaves the listener markedly unsure where to land, only knowing that where ever the landing ground might be is somewhere of intrigue and a really promising musical sound.
Early Rising sets a climbing trajectory both musically and for the story of the EP. The Young Wizard - as we hear him refer to himself many a time and the name he used to go by before Nix - is ready to 'cook a couple of batches of magic' with some lofi-inspired, intricate beats; slithers of jazz here and there. as the chorus tells, he's 'just tryna' climb, the only way is up', and this track tells us that if there's still far to go on that journey, this EP and whatever comes next is a musical mountain of goodness to asking to be ascended. And we're so far loving every second of it.
Track 2 - Paradise Pending
Paradise Pending kicks off with some excellent atmosphere building through foley-esque sounds and samples, and this is something we hear Nix do throughout the EP to standout effect - in this way particularly accentuated is the rain, which will emerge to be a large theme throughout the rest of the EP, demonstrating early on that even without the listener needing to be aware of it, Nix is building an environment for a theme that, when returned to throughout the EP, for that reason feels well placed. We will also never pass down an opportunity to mention B-ahwe - who we're excited to write about separately on her own work and on her further key contributions to making this EP what it is - who provides some really magical vocals in and around the chorus, making the 'paradise' section sound what you or us may imagine paradise might actually feel like.
That jazz element for which we were teased in the beginning of the EP really comes to the fore here, courtesy of none other than Poppy Daniels who also played a big part in the album, with some sax that can only really be justifiably described as sweet as hell. It's simply layered and is spaced well on the channels, and works beautifully with the song due to the bubbly keys and dense but allowing drum beats building a perfect path to the sax each and every time.
It only takes two tracks in, with the first an introduction of sorts, to learn that this man can truly rap, with Nix really showing off in Paradise Pending what he can do with his words. At points, of which there are many, it feels as if the words he spits flow off of one another with a togetherness and connection as if the English language in it's creation had always meant for them to be put next to each other (it's a grey Monday but the mundane takes my brain to a fun place) in anything but a mundane way. We also see Nix top this off with a subtle cheekiness (you like to get deep? mm, me too // 'do you like J Dilla?' I said 'course I like J Dilla) that injects some infectious personality and humanness in balance to some intricate storytelling. We start to get a sense of who these characters are and what they're about, ready to be built on as the songs go on.
Track 3 - Love
We begin Love in quite a dreamy soundscape, with an audibly drained Nix referencing a later track in the album and indeed part of the EP's name itself, foreshadowing what is to come and the significance of this seemingly innocuous statement - but more on this later! Accompanying is a fantastic piano that sounds like it more belongs in a smoke-filled elder day jazz bar; but Nix, in the way that he does, throws a chopped lofi beat atop and suddenly the EP itself becomes that smoke filled room - and we're loving the second-hand smoke. Remember we spoke about atmosphere building?!
Nix again takes a step out of the story to speak to the deeper messaging that might be within this EP (all these bars you're spitting in the booth, is there a message to deliver to the youth?) and, even though this is left unanswered in relative indecision, this perhaps is one of the messages in itself: that we're listening along to a man's tale of reflection, and different people will glean their own meanings and different points of connection throughout the EP. As the EP progresses, we can start to more confidently answer this question as a listener, but the fact again that is left open in the first half of the EP really demonstrates this journey of change, just through the structuring of the EP, that Nix referenced as the meaning he attributes to the making of this.
We're treated to a multitude of different sounds throughout Love, chiefly through various characters Nix builds and gives voice to - sometimes humorously (what? You're a fish now yeah? Thought you said you were a wizard) - and structural progression through the song. On the latter, as we approach the end, we hear a stripped back, melodic verse (with crisp drums not far off, of course) that comes as very refreshing, and adds another layer of texture to a song already rich of it. This is all complimented by the way Nix contrasts short, snappy bars (bars that I spray, keys that I play, beats that I make) with longer syllabled bars that directly follow (a vicious circle that will seem to stay the same as long as I keep those chains in place), stringing you along to a flow Nix completely directs knowing that the listener will be better off for it.
Track 4 - See U In The Morning
See U In The Morning (SUITM) brings itself in, again with some background chatter and nature sounds that really puts you as a listener in a place of natural familiarity, having heard the 'inaudible sounds of chatter and laughter from a group that you're sure is having a good conversation' sound regularly in your own lives with no particular attention at all. This helps bridge that gap between between what the song works (in success) to capture: something you feel keenly aware of but have never heard described to you in such a way. In this case, we'll see, it's extrapolated to something much more deeper and profound. It's perhaps because of this phenomenon that we think it entirely justified the hivemind chose this to be the breakout song of the EP - and it's uncommon that total streams fairly represent this.
This track feels like Nix near his rawest and least closed (if I am my father's son then this is how it goes, you could say I was filling a hole just to fill up a hole), and it's because of this, that unbridled vulnerability and subsequent connection and understanding between Nix and the listener, that we see such a connection that many can't put a finger on to this song that occurs in those that are lucky enough to listen to it.
Musically, the instruments, sounds and beats tend to have a lot less of an overt nature to them compared to this track's surrounding songs in the EP, in that there feels a sound less complex and 'in your face', but this is far from a negative. Could you imagine the song - with all of the subjects it covers and topics tastefully touched on - any other way? To have anything more than what it does would be to create a disparity of feeling being received by the listener, and there doesn't seem to be any space on this EP for that. It's yet another example of Nix picking that 'thing' and communicating it in the way it needs to be, which for the listener means a very, very enjoyable song.
Track 5 - Rum and Ginger
Track 5 of the EP, Rum and Ginger, is the one that introduces us to the concept of death, prompting the question on how this might relate to the overarching messages of the EP and it's title. Nix really beautifully personifies it - but we will cover this in greater detail as the EP draws to a close. The heavier sounds, more prominent keys of a tone higher than we're used to at this point in the EP, and pace of how they're being played create an audio setup that is in some ways preparing the listener for messages that may about to be more direct and hit harder.
As well as speaking to these concepts, Nix writes on the notion of change the making of this EP brought him that he spoke to us about at the gig about (the reason that I'm getting this written so that shit doesn't eat me to the point I cease to be living), and writes in continuity of some of the things we heard in previous tracks calling back the images of vices providing a relief; filling a space otherwise left empty (all of my worries seem to run away, maybe this rum and ginger gave a chase). As is so often in this EP, it's writing that is captivating and well placed.
This EP's 5th track, though just under three minutes in totality, feels like one of those songs that goes a way to epitomising what conscious, introspective rap should be. Every time you listen to the song you discover something new, hear why another bar is more than it appears to be at face value, and uncover a new layer to the song as a whole. It's writing to be proud of, as per.
Track 6 - Headlights
As Nix comes into Headlights, it feels as if because of the cadence and delivery of the verse, it's Nix speaking directly to the listener in soliloquy; stage lights dimmed and him centre stage, audience in waiting. In this, the brutalities we're so used to at this point of the EP are relayed, and in strange departure, you don't feel the need to explore this for deeper meaning like you do elsewhere in the EP and with Nix beyond, because the notions are so human and familiar that it transcends the need for metaphor (my soul it lusts for Summer sun I'm fucking done with Winter). Who of us doesn't know exactly what that feeling feels like? There's an abnormally sharp pronunciation of the 't' in 'winter', giving an auditory edge to the bar similar to the bitterness you feel when you're walking on those cold January nights, in body and mind.
B-ahwe on the chorus allows her voice to weave in and out of the very fundamentals of the song musically, with the type of voice that is able to do exactly that: a skilful construction of a song's layers that translate into what it must feel like to watch a masterpiece hung in the gallery take form and start moving. It could be that the song uses her voice excellently, or it could be that her voice just happens to be a universally perfect fit for whatever situation it finds itself in.
The spatial depth created in this song through the muffled, almost concealed drum beats, and the layered harmonies via Nix and B-ahwe and Nix alone in the background gives a real sense of clarity and spotlight to the verses that lay atop. Having this tucked away beat is almost giving musical credence to the lyrics in the song, where the production and song's musical mise-en-scène really does turn on the headlights and shines the light on the things that matter: the verses and their content. It's exactly the kind of production you never knew you needed.
Track 7 - When It Rains
When It Rains is the only track on the EP with a line up bigger than two, with the one-and-only Lausse The Cat joining Nix and B-ahwe. Many consider Lausse to be a sort of Godfather of this indescribable bubble of talent goes goes between Nix, B-ahwe and wider, and indeed Nix told us that it was Lausse himself that encouraged Nix to start rapping seriously. This EP, with 'serious' being the biggest understatement you've read today, shows that encouragement has not gone to waste.
We would say the fluidity between spoken word, poetry and rap demonstrated in this song surprises us, but 7 tracks in, having experienced what Nix is capable of, this comes as very little shock. As we begin, following a simply stunning verse delivered by B-ahwe which becomes a chorus we can't go without, Nix drops an epigraph or sorts. Almost out of nowhere, this covers the themes of the song and the wider EP: finding meaning within oneself (when it's all unravelled, and the meaning's revealed, I guess it all makes sense) and what makes us who we are, and who we are not - all whilst continuing with the use of the 'pathetic fallacy' rhetoric device - a hallmark of poetic imagery. Nix goes so far as to reference this (I'll leave it to bleak sonnets and tonic wine) and, only a few beats later, we're back into the rap that we know and love. If Nix's wordsmithing was ever in question, When It Rains is the answer.
And the features. A B-ahwe verse is always a treat when they come around as we get a compressive view on what her voice can do - the list of which seemingly infinite. The speed, delicacy and rhyming schemes of the verse are in complete parity to the poetry we heard earlier, and this bookending makes the song feel complete, even when only part way through. Then, in the distance, in short repetition and with volumes ascending, enter Lausse. We get an introductory verse indicated by the fading abafando leading in the the oncoming verse: Lausse's again. Whilst this buy one, get one free setup is, for the listener, a little bit more of the privilege of Lausse, the art of teeing up your own incoming verse so nonchalantly is something seldom seen and speaks to the musical gravitas of Lausse mentioned earlier. It takes you by surprise, but then you remember who's doing it. The verse that follows, calm, cool, collected as it is, speaks to finding a place for yourself in the way only Lausse can; the usual elegant eloquence ever-present.
When It Rains shows us so much, but in a way tells us what we already know. Nix's ability with words is masterful, B-ahwe can construct beauty to a song that becomes central, and Lausse appears fleetingly and blows everyone away. Track 7? Job done.
Track 8 - Life's A Bitch
Track 8 of the EP marks itself as the shortest of the album, beginning the final two track eponymous stretch into the ending that feels with each listen as if it has come far too soon.
Beginning the song, the contrast between the message - life's a bitch - and the upbeat, almost happy delivery is an irony that, for one of the few times in the EP, indicates an impending positive resolution. It lets the listener untense their jaw, relax their muscles and wipe the sweat off of their brow: the EP is finishing, and it's going to be okay - for both the narrative and whatever you might have identified with along the way. Nix brings us along on this realisation (raise a glass I guess we're toasting to that, life's a bitch but she ain't holding me back) - perhaps one of his own when writing, and we as listeners are willing on the protagonist as Nix brings this 9 track story to a close.
It's short, sweet, and full on mantra. So much so that, when you're a room is shouting the chorus back at the stage - as it was (and as we certainly were) - you start to wonder whether this was penned in the spirit of acceptance. Sometimes life is a bitch, and what better way to own that then a catchy, easy to sing along to chorus?
Track 9 - I Just Need An Early Night
So we're here. We've reached the terminus, and in so doing have gone with Nix through troubles reminded, recollected and accepted - ready to hear the conclusion. Not just of the EP, but Nix's final assessment of what has been, and what this means for times to come.
Beginning the track we're drawn in with soft, mellow keys being played, reminiscent of a lullaby bringing in that early night that becomes the subject of this song and the answer to the EP. The sax comes in as smooth as ever, reminding us even as the EP closes that song by song, so many of the roots and sounds can be found stemming from Jazz and gives complete warrant for you to add to your jazz-based playlists, if you so dare.
And then he begins. This is Nix encapsulating all that was implied as we went through the EP and facing it in raw, unfiltered frame. We hear question after self-analytical question in triad (do I need to change the way I see the place we live?), again relatable to many in an uncanny way. It being the ending track, we see Nix also resolve the extended metaphor and pathetic fallacy we've heard throughout the EP on the bleak climate (lately I've been getting better at shutting the door to the weather) and this sees us not only happy that a clear and present theme has been resolved positively, but grateful also that you've just listened to a skilfully crafted body of music that allowed a running metaphor to resolve itself in the first place. This, is music.
We've heard Nix throughout use rhetoric devices and features of literature that really break the border between music and language, but the way the concept of death is personified in this song is just breath-taking (despite her slightly thicker thighs and dark demeanour // her subtle whispers echo in a tortured mind). Proceeding to detail his fight against those whispers as a conversation that wouldn't be out of place overheard on the train (find somebody else my love 'cause honestly I'm doing fine // listen girl, what we had was nothing deep, all I needed was some sleep) is a lyrical play that belongs squarely in first-rate novels.
And, in many ways, that's what Life's a Bitch, I Just Need an Early Night is - the story of a young wizard very nearly losing his way, and the journey of that wizard renewing himself into something, or someone, bigger. Trails, tribulations, the lot - Nix walks the tightrope skilfully between storytelling and letting the listener in to what might lay behind the narrative, with a constant invitation, sometimes explicit, for that same listener to introspect too. Nix told us that this EP changed him, but armed with the notion of having lived to tell the tale and all of the tips and tricks that come with it, we can't help but think that the EP might've helped you through something too.
The man who calls himself a wizard makes an EP of pure magic. Makes sense, right?