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Azam Ali

Elysium for the Brave

(Six Degrees; US: 25 Jul 2006; UK: 7 Aug 2006)

Azam Ali has one hell of a sexy voice. She’s proven this in bands like Vas and Niyaz, and she proves it again here. She can croon low, she can wail high (she was born in Iran), her lyrics seem interesting, she looks good, she’s the whole package.


So hopes are high as we start off this solo album with a piece called “Endless Reverie”. It’s moody and dark, all echoey computer percussion and grindy drones, so the table is set for Ali to come in and blow us all away. But that’s where the problems begin. Don’t get me wrong—she sounds great, and the spooky layers of electronics on top of her voice are ingenious. We’re left thinking that maybe there’s a new cool world music singer on the scene.


But nothing much else happens here. The track’s slow build is wasted, as it never really ends up going anywhere. And that is pretty much the template for the whole album. These are atmospheric compositions, all space and cool reserve, but most of them are not very satisfying. The seven-minute “I Am a Stranger in This World” has two great rai flute solo breaks and lots of sounds, but there is nowhere for the ear to fix itself. “The Tryst” is one long ambient float, snippets of melody laid in over a clever prog track, but one gets tired of waiting to see if anything will happen. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.)


Which is not to say that there is not beauty in abundance here. The production is beautiful, crystalline, pinpoint, with new and ancient noises fluttering in and out of the mix. “Abode” has a funky Arabic violin motif, and there is true urgency in its percussive attack. And when “From Heaven to Dust” finally sheds its portentous skin to reveal a real heart—insistent tablas and lovely wordless vocals—it is easy to think that Azam Ali will someday make a great album.


But this is not that album. Next time, we need less of the perfect beauty and more soul, more sparkle, more real human feeling.

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