Azita: Disturbing the Air

Though she is unlikely to ever fully relinquish her “acquired taste” label, let’s be honest: none of Azita's dedicated listeners truly want her to.


Disturbing the Air

US Release: 2011-09-20
UK Release: 2011-09-19
Label: Drag City

Azita Youssefi has been a key figure in the Chicago underground scene since she formed the Scissor Girls in 1991, and she’s rightly made a name for herself as an eclectic composer of songs which ebb and flow based upon her whims, always anchored by her magnificently evocative vocals. She’s forged her path from apocalyptic art rock to bare-bones vocals and piano. She’s been recording as a solo artist off and on for more than a decade, and she’s rarely been one to conform to what anyone dares expect from her music.

In that regard, Disturbing the Air furthers her progression as a songwriter while shifting in a more dark, sombre direction from her previous effort, How Will You?. The album sticks to a formula built upon Azita’s voice and her piano, building a series of frequently haunting melodies which provide the backbone for a challenging listening experience. Upon a cursory first listen, the material herein can seem overly simplistic, almost unfinished in its initial bare, exposed state. But further exploration showcases how the constantly shifting nature of Azita’s vocals take control of the more basic melodies of the piano backdrop, allowing the listener to focus in fully on the vocals. Her voice is the centerpiece of this album, her strongest instrument being her ability to draw us into these artistic sketches, giving us the chance to experience these songs as multi-sensory experiences.

“Stars or Fish” is an excellent example of Azita’s ability to paint a picture with words:

[blockquote]I bought you the best telescope I could afford

Because you said you wanted to look at the stars

The mildest evenings came and went

You only ever look at the ground

I planted a crown of roses upon your head

And tended them with care, removing thorns

They bloom still in the morning

And perfume the air

I watch the tides lap at your door

With colored fish and … the sound of waters ebb and flow

Like a forgotten song plays in the night[/blockquote]

Her voice stimulates all five senses. Close your eyes and focus on the arrangement, as the mild, soothing piano orchestration paints a picture through subtle shifts in tempo and tone, while Azita’s vocals fill in the spaces with everything we need to fully immerse ourselves in the scene. She’s a magnificent songwriter in this regard, crafting songs which stand up to repeated listening, constantly revealing layer upon layer as we explore more deeply.

Disturbing the Air is an album which may prove difficult to consume in a single listening session, but each progressive examination will allow more of the picture to emerge, creating a listening experience which is rare and worth savouring. Azita expects a lot from her listeners, knowing she’s cultivated an audience willing to give the music the room it needs to breathe, which gives her permission to take risks in her arrangements.

Though Azita Youssefi is unlikely to ever fully relinquish her “acquired taste” label, let’s be honest: none of her dedicated listeners truly want her to.Disturbing the Air is a rich aural tapestry, and it more than stands up to the rest of Azita’s already diverse body of work. Her continued willingness over the years to push herself creatively pays off here with an album of fragile depth and sophisticated beauty, proving there’s room in a balanced musical landscape for art driven by more than pop hooks and commercial expectations.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.