Nick Hakim opens his debut album Green Twins with an eponymous track that sounds like a warm, quivering ball of static and soul. Through crackles, Hakim sings about a life and a family that he almost had: “I wanted to start it with you, but somebody said we ain’t ready… They will always haunt my dreams, the green twins with your eyes.”
At first listen, this is a pretty direct portrait of love, loss, heartbreak, and all the other feelings that leak out of R&B. Except, the D.C.-bred, Brooklyn-based artist has taught us by now that straightforward love songs aren’t really his thing.
In an interview with Noisey, he revealed that “Green Twins” came out of a dream he had three times in a row: “We were walking down the road in [Jamaica Plains] and two little green babies were running around the sidewalk. There was a crash behind us. As we walk away, we look back and the twins had been run over by a car. The babies were made out of some green Jello texture.”
Splattering Jello babies should be enough of a clue that something more hallucinatory and imaginative is going on in Hakim’s music. Even when the themes are rooted in deeply personal stories or emotions, Hakim renders his soulful creations through his hazy filters and dreamscapes, tinkering with production that reflects the strangely kaleidoscopic world inside his head.
On Green Twins, synths morph into beautifully warped layers of glitchy distortion. Light melodies, like on “Slowly,” might collect fuzz mid-song, paving the way for a wobbly arrangement high on psychedelics. A buzz might burst out of nowhere, the way a couple of drones appear suddenly on the charming “Roller Skates.” Hakim’s results are odd and experimental, but the songs also don’t lose their groove, accomplishing a style he has described as, “if RZA had produced a Portishead album.”
Hakim’s eclectic point-of-view comes from a range of influences he picked up as a kid in D.C. His older brother went to Fugazi shows, his Chilean-Peruvian parents played nueva canción around the house. Hakim himself listened to everyone from Phil Spector to Al Green—all influences that linger on the new album.
Back in 2014, Hakim garnered attention for his back-to-back EPs, Where Will We Go, Pt. I & II, projects he released while he was a student at the Berklee College of Music. The songs were quiet but kinetic, soulful but restrained, and they established Hakim as a singer/producer who can manipulate space and emotion. Hakim eventually moved to Brooklyn and started fleshing out some skeleton recordings that became the backbone for Green Twins.
The release is more full and lush than Hakim’s early work, and it allows him to really embrace the unexpected. Other young singer-producers are out there, bending and shaping minimalistic R&B and neo-soul like mounds of clay (see: Gabriel Garzón-Montano and his buoyant soul-funk). But Hakim is setting himself apart with his knack for the peculiar, making spine-tingling eeriness his calling card.
Hakim’s voice is another instrument that offsets the production acrobatics. Sometimes, the vocals are clouded and distant, reaching for you deep from under layers of reverb. Other times, they shatter through the arrangements, like on “Bet She Looks Like You,” in which Hakim hits his most impressive notes. The loops that braid in and out of “The Want” and “JP” continue to make good use of his falsetto.
With his combination of well-executed wails and warps and waves, Hakim’s sound is soul from the future, if not from another dimension entirely.
Nick Hakim performs at the Rock & Roll Hotel on Saturday, May 20. 1353 H St. NE. 7 p.m. $15.