Foreign Exchange Music

Glaciers, the first full-length collaboration between Dutch multi-instrumentalist and producer Nicolay and Raleigh’s Hot at Nights (Chris Boerner on eight-string guitar, Matt Douglas on his usual array of woodwinds, and drummer Nick Baglio), is alternately infuriating and intriguing.

On one level, it has the shimmering, inscrutable veneer of the finest waiting-room music, with simple, unremarkable melodies and more eighties-throwback synthesizers than one could ever imagine. Chords move through rehashed soft-rock progressions, colored by bits of smooth jazz toward climaxes that feel tired and unearned.

The production can be both saturated and hazy at the same time, layering synths, guitars, and winds in ever-shifting combinations that often scream of artificiality. Boerner’s guitar solos can soar and shred aimlessly. The perfect storm arrives in “Of Days Gone By,” seven minutes spent wandering an endless shopping-mall hallway.

And yet, peering past the surface reveals that much more is going on, where the group crafts everything mentioned above into of something far more interesting. Take “Saturn,” for instance. It centers on Baglio’s skill at creating deeply funky grooves that never settle anywhere for more than a few moments. The track features one of the heaviest bass lines on the album, which prompts Boerner to channel Slash and Eddie Van Halen in a starburst of a solo. Nicolay’s playful array of synths make the song’s unexpected twists and turns all the more surprising.

Throughout the album, Douglas remains the group’s secret weapon. His deep arsenal of instruments and ear for layers provide attention-grabbing details throughout, like the burbling figures at the beginning of “The Current” or the floating chords in “Pioneer 11.” He can turn even the most pat melody into a gripping expression. All of these contradictions show just how fine a musical line the group is riding on Glaciers, and how small the gap is between a compelling groove and muzak.