Album review: Qais Essar “The Ghost You Love Most”

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The last place you’d probably look for Afghan-inspired instrumental folk-rock would be Phoenix, Arizona. You may not even ever really go looking for such a strange genre, but Qais Essar- who, yes, lives in the Southwest- uses an ancient Afgahni instrument called a Rabab along with a 70’s style rock backline to make a half-hour’s worth of spirited, zanny music.

All too easily, he could have thrown a cheesy set of electronica loops behind his melodies and he’d have made something contemporary and easily digestible, but unsatisfied with the simple, Qais keeps things sounding organic and nuanced, in a very jazz fusion-y way, but much more focused.

“The Culmination of a Sorrowful Sound” starts everything off, a very theatrical, swerving river of a song, barely rising above a whisper. Much of the album cascades this way, down to the album’s closer, “Untitled”, which is a peaceful, sleepy, jazzy composition.

There’s not much detail to go into about the song particulars. The album carries a feel all the way through. It’s yogic, in a way; very conscious of its own breath, and relaxed while being strong. “Journey to Qaf” exemplifies this, moving eerily slowly upwards until it bursts into a fluid jam.

The Rabab is a very Asian-sounding stringed instrument, often piercing and quite vibrated. If you’re not interested in that sound at all, you’re not gong to be invested in the foundation of The Ghost You Love Most. People who enjoy the soundscape the Middle East mastered long before any prog rock band did will enjoy the smarts behind these compositions.

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Album review: Mellow Mood “Large”

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Twins Jacopo and Lorenzo Garzia make up the heartbeat of Mellow Mood, and backed by one of the tightest backlines of the century, Large (Cumbancha, 2018) is on track to being one of the best sounding reggae albums I’ve heard in recent years. Lyrically, the duo balances on the thin wire that is traditional reggae themes and contemporary ingenuity, although, as much as a stickler I am for words, leeway is given because the delivery is on point. Bless the production, but also, the instrumentation is built solid and bright. Jacopo and Lorenzo have unique sounding voices too. And this is warrior music, fired at us.

Sound of War” is perhaps the best example. The vibe frolics, then they cast out, “People you take it too easy/ Like unnu play with a ball/ Talk you a talk so easy/ While them want start a war,” and the chorus is a glitzy, “Rampimpim/ rampampam/ This yah the sound of a war/ Rampempem rampampam/ So we wake up in a war.” The sound is classic future roots, maybe something Black Uhuru would have created.

The title track moves that way too, bouncing into old school reggae, pulsing with delays, breakdowns, a slender one drop in the drums, and vocal harmonies. The chorus is catchy, while the verses are meditative and pointed: “In the west we nuh feed no soul/ In the west we just deck the shell/ Big brands dictating our wants/ Easy we fall under their spell.”

Some songs are on the awesome end of more pop-centric dancehall/reggae roots. “Heart To No One” is a great example of this, a flexed muscle in the same sleeve as the likes of Stephen Marley, New Kingston, or Collie Buddz.

Other songs pull on these same reigns but end up being pulled down a different track. “It Can’t Work” is a powerfully political song: “Expose the medias/ Lies about Syria/ Same about Libia.” “Daddy” is a dank version of this too. Ostensibly a cliché reggae track (the fierce one drop and oompa-loompa bassline sets this up), the song is actually a really beautiful letter to the twins’ father: “Me give thanks to you becaw you chose a great mother/ Kept the family together… Nothing coulda better how you raised me and mi bredda.”

In fact, all these songs are quite simply, really, really good in terms of relevance, production, content, and delivery. The only fault of Large may be that the song structures are very similar to one another. Every chorus involves a one to three-word hook, like they’re shooting for anthems without realizing not every song needs to be sung along to.

Still, I didn’t see this album coming. It’s a fast-paced, hearty blast of contemporary reggae, and it’s fun as well as political. I highly recommend fans of modern reggae check Large out.