When Hologram Ĭmparatorluğu came out back in 2016, the hype that surrounded young artist Gaye Su Akyol in the international world music scene was both extraordinary and totally warranted. Su Akyol may draw in large part on the sounds of 1970s Turkish psychedelic rock, but the music she makes is entirely her own. A surreal ideal grounded in modernity, new album İstikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir – “Consistent Fantasy Is Reality” – is another celestial chapter in Su Akyol’s already legendary repertoire. The ensemble that joins her plays as a seamless, almost organic group, but it is Su Akyol herself who stands at the center of it all, her voice the most radiant instrument in a formidable sea of sound.
Gaye Su Akyol’s voice is deep, smooth, and powerful. She has nimble control of every graceful melisma, welding strength to beauty in golden unity. Her band rises to the challenge of keeping up with her and does so with incredible musicianship. Winding guitars, electric saz, violin, cümbüş, and oud all come together in the string section, while percussion and brass (the album features well-established bandleader İlhan Erşahin on saxophone) create a foundation in motion, one both sinuous and solid. The entire group comes across as well-versed in vintage surf rock as it is in older Turkish folk traditions. A broad repertoire is a good start, but what elevates Gaye Su Akyol and her band is their ability to put it all together.
The first notes of the album’s titular opening track are full-on retro, grand synth chords at their most synthetic that give way to electrified strings and vocals. Dark and poignant, the track’s dramatic flair makes big promises that Su Akyol is more than ready to deliver on throughout the album. Track “Bağrımızda Taş” takes a more subtle approach to that theatricality with a sensual melodic sway and romantic string work. “Laziko” is a speedy surf tune, with rapid guitar in sharp contrast to Su Akyol’s languid voice.
Echoing drums and sinister bass open “Gölgenle Bir Başıma” with a darker edge, a cavernous taste of the underground. “Meftunum Sana” coasts on beats that land between funk and Turkish traditional, with brass adding some heat to the cool mix. “Şahmeran” leans at times toward tango and at times toward the Balkans; “Bir Yaralı Kuştum” recalls just a little bit of Ennio Morricone. Fat synths open up heavyweight track “Hemşerim Memleket Nire”, while “Boşluk Ve Sonsuzluk” follows in sharp contrast, a short and ephemeral tune completely focused on Su Akyol’s voice. Finally, cinematic “Halimiz İtten” rounds out the record with hypnotic beats, saz embellishments, and Su Akyol’s commanding presence ending on a high note, at least metaphorically speaking.
For the many eras of Turkish music represented in Gaye Su Akyol’s music, there is no artist quite like her, and there never has been. Elements of her compositions may be comparable to artists of various times and places – the acid-tinged sounds of Anatolian rock pioneer Erkin Koray, maybe, or even the arresting contralto of Umm Kulthum – but Gaye Su Akyol’s artistic sensibilities lend themselves to a unique take on her perceptions of Turkey’s immediate present, reinterpreting her environment in a way that scintillates and smolders on İstikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir.