A five-minute review of Salim Nourallah’s life would leave you wondering if he sleeps: husband, father, producer, guitar-slinger for the Instigators and solo artist. It is no wonder when he was ready to release Snowing in My Heart two years ago, he envisioned it as a double album. This is, after all, a man who has to be concerned with being efficient. On his latest release, Ciphers for Snowing, Nourallah revisits the material and leftovers from that record but still manages to bring freshness to the songs.
finds Nourallah once again revisiting themes of hope and safety. Two years later those themes seem even timelier. On “You Are Safe”, he manages to stare down every illness, intruder and fear with the simple refrain, “It’s ok / Don’t be afraid / You are safe.” He is even more convincing on the stand-out single of Snowing in My Heat, “Don’t Be Afraid”, which gets re-imagined here with guitar work from Dallas multi-instrumentalist (and founding member of the Slack) Chris Holt. Tracked as a one-two punch, these prove to be the highlights of the record, as both make this a record worthy of standing on its own. “Hope” has the draw of a low-key narrative from Elvis Costello—despite the absence of a direct storyline. Emotionally, it tells a story, and the Spanish-guitar interlude only adds to that feel. “Dreaming”, a three-minute stroll, complete with a harmonized hook and reverb-like melody, hints at At Dawn-era My Morning Jacket.
In addition to being a superb songwriter, Salim Nourallah can really sing. At times, a bit Bono-esque, he sells what he sings. His tone is confidence inspiring and believable. Underneath it all though, lives a real tribute to the best of the new wave ‘80s. Drawing sonically from bands like New Order, Nourallah makes the old feel new. While clearly comfortable in the studio (and with the many toys his studio probably has available), he never forgets the guitar. Each track on the record features textured guitar parts that prove tasteful and memorable.
Nourallah originally envisioned a double record with these tracks and Snowing in My Heart, but in reality this record stands fine on its own. If anything is missing here it is that, despite his eternal optimism, lyrically Salim Nourallah appears to still be holding back. The songs, at times, feel like much more could be said. Coming from an artist who spends so much time coaxing emotion from the musical side of his projects, it surprises. If his lyrics are not introspective enough or revealing, the sound he manages to create certainly is. The term “ciphers”, in this case, is a misnomer, though plenty of importance can be found in these tracks.