You may not die from one listen to Nick Hakim, but you will be seriously incapacitated.
Don’t believe me? Listen to his song “Pour Another.” Right now. The slow pace and descending instrumentation hint at a defeated trudge home. The layered vocals asking for “another” and “another” suggest he’s been doing this for a while: “the stench of her perfume / caught on my coat / yet another morning / I’m waking up alone.” And towards the end, the crescendo of dissonant, distorted and sloppy electric guitar wailing amidst a far off voice desperately begging: “Please! Please!” If that’s not a perfect sadboy song, I don’t know what is. And yeah, this boy loves his reverb.
Perhaps you’ve never heard of Nick Hakim – his name seldom comes up in casual conversations in Squamish. In fact, Hakim tends to keep to edgy rooftop parties in Brooklyn and suddenly skirt down the East Coast on a whim. However, this mid-twenties, D.C.-native is heading out on tour to celebrate his upcoming album Green Twins, which will be released in May. And, more importantly, he’s touring through the Pacific Northwest, so if you’re looking to cool down in Vancouver two days after Princess Nokia’s fiery set at the Biltmore, read on.
In 2014, Hakim debuted two EPs, Where Will We Go Part 1 and 2 (side A and B of the same vinyl) that document an intimate journey through a young man’s heartbreak, grief, and loneliness. His distinctive sound lends itself well to this subject matter. His songs are slow and ethereal, driven by a developed, low end, minimal percussion. From this base, Hakim opens space in each of his songs for subtle and striking instrumentation, as well as his liquid-gold voice (like the soulful, melancholic child of King Krule and Marvin Gaye).
Hakim’s musical influences were broad and ever-present growing up in Washington, D.C. His parents are from Chile and Peru. They instilled in him an appreciation for Latin American folk music—and Willie Colón—at a young age. He was introduced to hip-hop by his friends and early-00s punk by his brother. As he came into his own musical taste, Hakim explored 70s and 80s soul and Motown, cultivating his unique vocal style. He attended Berklee College of Music and began working on this two-part EP there. In 2013, he graduated and moved from Boston to Brooklyn, and the rest is history.
Thematically, Hakim’s lyrics revolve around the idea of loss—from his break-up ballad “Cold” to his ambient culminating track “Lift Me Up.” He speaks directly to his loved one in the song “I Don’t Know”, where he asks innocent, naïve questions about what “it’s” like, alluding to heaven: “Here’s a toast for you it’s been too long / Where did you go and have you seen / over there, does the air taste differently?” He continues these big questions, gradually shifting his focus from his lost loved one to himself, where he implores someone to “Just lift me up from here.” The song “Heaven” speaks from a distance, almost omniscient, when he sings: “Everybody wants to go to heaven / no one wants to die / are you ready for that?” which concludes with an old, rickety organ crescendo ascending up and up. And up.
Hakim’s sound, characterized by his low-tempo and spacious soundscape, finds versatility throughout the EPs. From the buzzing of the amp in “I Don’t Know” to the white noise in “Heaven” to the “uno mas” before “Pour Another,” Hakim’s lo-fi elements in Where Will We Go feel intimate – any song could be a demo he recorded after a lonely, early morning trudge home from the bar. Some of them probably were. In “Cold” and “Papas Fritas,” he emulates a D’Angelo-like, groove, with a pulsating four-on-the-floor push. And the ambient street noises and reversed guitar audio in “Lift Me Up” and “Intro” lend a circularity to the whole narrative, framing his reminiscence of loss and loneliness within a did-this-already happen-or-is-it-just-starting-over-again sort of cycle.
What I’m really trying to say is this: listen to Where Will We Go. And, while you’re at it, listen to his new single “Bet She Looks Like You” from his upcoming album Green Twins that comes out in a few months on ATO Records. Prepare to be seriously wooed. Prepare to be incapacitated. And, if all goes well, I’ll see you at Alexander Gastown on the 25th. Doors open at eight.