Square Moon (Northern Electric Sound)
From its Esquivel-inspired cover graphics to the rockabilly quiff Stephen Nikleva wears in his jacket photo, Square Moon is a pitch-perfect homage to the guitar instrumental albums of the 1950s and ’60s, with a few contemporary moves thrown in to keep it interesting. Very interesting.
If you’ve been paying attention at all, you’ll be aware of Nikleva’s credits: a musical and multi-instrumental all-rounder, he’s played bizarro-world Afro-prog with Red Herring, sultry pop with Sarah McLachlan, and hipster hillbilly jazz with Petunia and the Vipers. Here, though, he’s thrown his favourite guitar LPs into a blender and arrived at his own take on the era that shaped him. Technically, it’s a tour-de-force: Nikleva knows just how much reverb to apply to invoke the Ventures and how much treble to turn down to conjure up space-age jazzbo George Barnes; he also seems to have a handle on exactly how Les Paul achieved those chiming chipmunk guitars on hits like “How High the Moon” and “Vaya Con Dios”.
As a guitarcheological artifact alone, Square Moon deserves five stars, and we’ll add a bonus comet for the personal touches—including the woozy fretless guitars that wriggle through “The Snake Dance” and the “Never on Sunday” mandolins that decorate “Macedonian Polka”—that come up throughout. This is pure retro fun with a high-gloss nitro finish.