T he prog rock-style cover of Nick Hakim's debut indicates that he is no ordinary soul singer. Like New York's answer to Lewis Taylor, the cult British 90s singer-songwriter, Hakim drifts between genres and moods, displaying a soft spot for shadowy beats, Shuggie Otis, hip-hop and the early 70s, when psychedelia was embraced by R&B. His voice, like the music, has a dream-like quality, whether mulling over his girlfriend's resemblance to God (the rapturous Bet She Looks Like You) or dissecting nightmares (the sensual title track).
Where Will We Go, asked 23-year-old Washingtonian Nick Hakim in 2014, over two EPs of gently mind-expanding R&B. Woozily pondering Heaven ("What if heaven’s right here?") one moment, and more earthbound destinations in another ("I sleepwalk back home/with the stench of her perfume all on my coat" – Pour Another), the end may have been unclear, but the journey sounded smooth. The songs were rooted in neo-soul, but the edges were fuzzy, with Hakim's voice often pitched on the crackling edge of break-up, indistinct amid rich, yawning soundscapes or steadily trickling over skeletal piano and ambient noise.
It's always exciting when soul music gets a new nightingale, with a distinct swag from his own select persuasions. When the likes of D'Angelo, John Legend, and Leon Bridges appear, a warmth enters the air around the speakers they call through and the vibe turns groovier. Adding his own accent to a lexicon spoken with such legacy entrenched, Nick Hakim has arrived on his debut full-length, Green Twins, with the gait of a classy nonchalance.
Although he studied at Berklee College of Music and might come across as a young gun, Nick Hakim can be described as a somewhat diffident late bloomer. The singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist didn't plant his first foot forward as a musician until he was out of his teens. Within a few years, however, his first two EPs were in circulation, attracting listeners with uniquely old-soul ballads that were intimate yet mysterious.
Nick Hakim songs brim with yearning. There are glimpses of lovers, both lost and present, but he emphasizes the feelings they impart in specific moments. This was the hallmark of his early standout, "Cold," a break-up song that longed for a reconciliation that would never come, settling for the memory of her smile and gaze. Each of Hakim's scenes carries singular flourishes, like the souring regret that can come with nostalgia, or the blush of a daydream.
There is a moment during 'Cuffed', towards the end of Brooklyn-based Nick Hakim's debut album Green Twins, when the whole track decides to put the buffers on and slide, lazily, towards the promise of a complete stop. Up to that point, the track, and much of the record, has been chugging along merrily enough, comfortable in its languorous fusion of soul, hip-hop and lo-fi funk. Suddenly, from nowhere, a chorus of high frequency cymbals begin to envelop the mix in something like a waxy coat.