Released ahead of Ellipsis (Nicki Wells’ debut album, even though she is far from a newcomer to the world of music), Holy Smoke is a striking lead single. A quiet and bittersweet track, it defies expectations of what a lead single should be.
Subtly defying expectations is something that seems to come naturally to the independent singer, composer, and instrumentalist. Just like artists such as Hania Rani, Nicki combines the sensibilities of scoring and indie folk to spellbinding effect. Holy Smoke feels more like a listening experience than a song: by the time the last breaths of the track have died away, I feel like I have undergone a spiritual experience, a cathartic cleanse of the soul.
Nicki connects with something truly beautiful on this track. First listening in the quiet sunshine of a Sunday morning, I feel as though I am enveloped into a beautiful soft embrace by Nicki’s vocals and childhood piano cocooned in reverb. Each time she sings “Time to face the angels’ grace”, I have goosebumps dancing on my spine. The incredible sensitivity and vulnerability of this track is breathtaking; even after listening again and again, the beauty of this track unfailingly moves me to tears. Nicki herself said that the track “explores the idea that with death can come a kind of grace”, and in many ways this bittersweetness reminds me of Mumford and Sons’ heartbreaking song “Beloved”. Nicki Wells’ has that same ability to portray the complex and inarticulate emotions of death in ways that are both sensitive and uplifting.
As well as drawing on her experience as a composer for a variety of politically and socially conscious films, TV, and dance, Nicki’s lyrics connect her music to the spiritual and mystical sides of life. She is part of a new wave of deeply sensitive women in music, fighting for the freedoms and equalities that have long been withheld. Drawing comparisons with artists such as Aurora and Lady Moon, Nicki uses lyrics to connect our human struggles and cycles of life to the environment that we are surrounded by; and reminds us that we can be comforted by nature, if we allow it.
On this track Nicki fully realises the value of silence in music: a skill so often lost in today's hectic and cacophonous world. The bravery in letting so much of her music be composed from the absence of sound really gives a sense of the assuredness and confidence that underlies Nicki Wells’ music. Writing, producing, and performing all her own tracks, she is a woman who is utterly in control of her art. Maybe that’s part of why her music feels so profound: within it she is unashamedly expressive, a thing as rare as it is beautiful.