Many years ago, before participation trophies were a thing, my high school had a horrible caste system in place that divided pupils according to their mathematics aptitudes: regular joes ended up taking the subject at ‘Standard Grade,’ jocks and other primates landed up in ‘lower grade’ and finally, the Elon Musks of the future (he and I were at the same school, BTW) went to ‘Higher Grade.’ As barbaric as the system sounds in contemporary terms, it did give me a useful descriptor for intellectually engaging and technically inspiring artistic and creative practices, however – and K6999ROMA:EP, the latest record from avant-popster Nick Hudson is one hundred percent Higher Grade music.
A quick look at “The Ballad of K69996 Roma” and its accompanying video (where Hudson and co-conspirator Kianna Blue, also of Hudson’s other project The Academy of Sun engage in various urban nighttime skullduggery) reinforces this opinion, as arthouse cinema techniques vie with narrative in a tale of life cut violently short too soon. This reframing of the death of Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1975 from the perspective of the Alfa Romeo that ended the queer creative icon’s life (hence the song and album title) is both unexpected and laudable. Senior filmmaking lecturer and critical thinker Adrian Goycoolea lends his documentary-style direction to the short film and the end result is a beautiful, if mildly unsettling snapshot of creative synergy. Like so many of the up-and-comers reinventing the joy of synthpop, Nick Hudson masks painful topics (like being devoured by ancient interdimensional entities, I’m talking to you Carpenter Brut) in deceptively sensitive, gentle synths and electronic melodies.
The short film (music video isn’t a strong enough description) in question.
The incongruous marriage of bizarre theming with gentle alt-pop music doesn’t end there, though – “The Florist,” for example, transforms self-immolation (not to be confused with the 1992 Fear Factory song) into a cathartic act of life becoming art. Kianna Blue once again collaborates, co-composing the central theme around which the song is arranged.
Collaboration is a key part of Hudson’s process, and it obviously works: while praise for his multi-faceted creativity is undeniably deserving, it would not be forthcoming if he had not worked with some very established names in the industry – from Wayne Hussey to David Tibet to GB Jones. In this way, Hudson is very much representative of post-pop music as a whole: the spirit of cooperation and community has never been stronger, especially among fringe and independent artists. He also shows very up-to-the-minute savvy in terms of his musical presentation, using scarcity (50 copies, 25 of which are unique!) to drive demand for physical copies of K6999ROMA:EP. To add to the experience thereof, original artworks by Hudson himself (yes, he is something of a creative Renaissance man, adding visual arts to his already full resume of musician, videographer and novelist) are included in these for further desirability.
But that’s all fluff – intelligent fluff purpose-designed to appeal to a more dedicated niche audience than casual streamers, but fluff nevertheless – when the actual music gets going. Hudson keeps listeners guessing with subtle interplays between clear, practically minimalist piano lines and harsh electronic stabs, but also drops deeply moving, dark accents of strings in support. And that doesn’t even take into account the shifting stereo effects, overdubs and textural overlays. “A Congregation of One,” for example, feels like a continuation of musical themes like this already explored on the aforementioned album opener, “The Ballad of K69996 Roma.” The whole carries the effect of a performance art setpiece that hovers somewhere between beautiful and frightening – as well as being a difficult, disconcerting pace to maintain.
Despite a dominant electronic presence, the overall feeling is similar to that of neofolk pioneers like Sol Invictus or Current 93: unexpected, unsettling and far too clever for its own good. “We Darken Horses,” for instance, adds a wide range of vocal styles (we won’t even get into the music hall timbre shown on “Asymetric: a Forgery”) and treatments to a backbeat teetering dangerously close to dubstep, but still resonates with the soul, somehow, like a folk choir at a village fair’s pagan paean. This mock-gentleness contrasts frighteningly with the full-on Suicide Commando hellectro roars somehow arranged into “You eat with your eyes,” which itself feels worlds apart from the Erasure-esque “Amber and the Ambergrines.”
The video for “The Florist” is also partially shot by Hudson himself.
All in all, Nick Hudson’s prodigious talent or creativity are not one iota in doubt on K6999ROMA:EP. The stamina – not to mention the patience – of his audience are, however. This record is a wild, vacillating journey, not at all the alt-pop Depeche Mode romp it pretends to be at first glance. I fear Nick Hudson is as likely to lose as much audience as he stands to gain on this one – even if my analytic exposure tentatively finds me among the latter in this case.
K69996ROMA:EP Track Listing:
1. The Ballad of K69996 Roma
2. We Darken Horses
3. You Eat With Your Eyes
4. If I Get Killed It’s 100% The Fault Of Alain Delon And His Godfather Francois Marcantoni
5. Amber And The Ambergrines
6. A Congregation Of One
7. Asymmetric: A Forgery
8. The Florist
Run Time: 29:58
Release Date: October 27, 2021
Record Label: Self-Release