Album Review: Wled el Balad – “Wled el Balad”

Heyyyy… it’s been a while, internet. How’ve you been?

 Now let’s get down to business.

 This one came out late-December. It is the first release from the band, which consists of Mohammad Hodeib and Ashley Chokeir on vocals, Saad Malaeb on guitar, Mahmoud Ramdan on bass, and Hussam Elias on drums, a 6-track demo.

I have only seen the band live once, and they were pretty good. Not “WOWOWOWOW” good, but definitely above average, which is why I had some good expectations for this. But somehow it fell short of completely meeting them.

 Overall, I liked the lyrics penned by Mohammad Hodeib. They’re sarcastic and make good use of figurative language, not all of them though, like the song “Rawa2”, which narrates a story pretty straightforward. I’d like to make a side-note here: Has anyone noticed the overwhelming number of alternative Arabic-language artists whose lyrics fit the descriptions: “Sarcastic”, “Ironic”, “Surreal”, or “Critical”? Hell, Michelle Keserwany’s whole body of work is based on this. Don’t get me wrong, those are my favorite kinds of lyrics, but it’s almost like that’s the standard now. Like if you write in Arabic, but not cynically and vaguely, you’re just another no-substance pop star. I’m sure “Rawa2” has all the kinds of symbolism and implications that other songs have, but it doesn’t sound like it’s trying desperately to get them across to us, and I respect that.

 The vocalists Hodeib and Choukeir should also be commended. Hodeib sings with emotion, like an actor, changing tones, yelling, etc… Choukeir also displays variations in tone, not as much as Hodeib, but it’s not necessary since her voice has an endearing quality to it.

 Now the music, I have some issues here. The band’s style is rock with touches of blues, jazz, and reggae. The rock aspect is a double-sided sword. At times it’s fresh and punk-like (like in “Sakra Dayme'”), other times it sounds like it was played by a classic rock cover band. I’m not sure how to explain, but there is a corner of rock music that I don’t like going to, and they took me to it. Not that it’s wrong or anything, I’m just not into classic blues-rock. Sue me. As for the reggae aspect, they stayed true to the genre to some extent with the use of effects (delay, reverb) and the drumming (you know, side-stick). Speaking of the drums, they could have been better, regardless of genre.

 I’m not really talking about the drummer, who I wouldn’t say sucks, but is certainly not the best; I’m talking about recording. The drums sound dry. They sound like each hit is a prerecorded sample. They’re just separate from all the other sounds. It sounds worse when they’re slow too. I don’t know… I really don’t know. Maybe it’s the volume? Maybe they needed some slight effects? I’m not a sound engineer…

 Anywho, good lyrics and vocal presentation, but I have a love-hate relationship with the music, and the recording could have been better. It’s a demo in the end, a sample created for evaluation and general feedback; you’re not going to get the final polished result the first time, so those were my two-cents. Thank you very much.

Album Review: Fareeq el Atrash – “Fareeq el Atrash”

 

This is the first of the re-booted album reviews. All previous album reviews will be re-done. Just a heads up.

 In a world/country, where lyrics revolving around either politics, how crappy your life here in Lebanon has been, or just being gangsta (penned by disciples of Eminem and Lil’Wayne of course) are rapped to synth beats and the obligatory oriental-fusions (because everyone who samples oud in a beat is the first person to ever do it, for no one had yet dared pull such an earth-shattering move), a group stands out by being a band with two rappers as vocalists, or maybe two rappers who rely on a band to provide their beats. Either way, the concept is fresh.

 After much anticipation, they have released their self-titled debut album under the Forward Music label. Some of you may know that Fareeq el Atrash had already released a sort of album, which was a defunct pre-album that they decided to share instead of sweeping under the carpet.

 While the album is an adequate introduction to the style and subject matter of the group, it isn’t really that much of a delectable audio-treat. It’s healthy and wholesome, but doesn’t give much of a sugar rush. Let me eleaborate: It leaned more towards the funk aspect of the band than towards the hip hop aspect. So any hardcore funkaholic will eat this up first listen, but I for one had some trouble digesting it, and it’ll take a while for this to grow on me. 

 The fact that there are previously heard versions of some of the songs to compare these new ones to is a bit unfair, because these songs should be treated as separate works and judged by their own merits, without having something to live up to. But I must resort to comparison in some cases.

 The rappers, Edd and Chyno, are socio-political, but not whiny, optimistic, but not in a “life’s all about getting laid and rocking bling” way, and have a sense of wit and humor. That’s one of Fareeq’s appeals, their capability of breaking out of the norm and rapping about topics that are not a priority to most rappers. Throughout the course of this album you will hear songs about: the true meaning of rap (Su2alu Jimly), pure un-superficial love (Sunshine), and the importance of perseverance (Da3ess 3al Akheer).

 These verses are laid over a classic funk-rock style, crafted by John Imad Nasr on bass and Ghassan Khayyat on guitar. They never came off as cheesy and were genuinely soulful and funky, even displaying some reggae and jazz tendencies. Some additions were also made to pre-heard songs, like the distorted guitar and keyboard-organ in “Demoqrati, which were pretty cool. But the drums are another story.

 The drums in each track are very similar, with a few exceptions. When I say drums, I’m not referring to the beat, but to the particular bass, snare, and hi-hat sounds. You can notice slight alterations throughout the tracks, like in “Demoqrati”, where the snare drum sounds sharper. These adjustments were not that obvious, with the exception of such tracks as “Su2alu Jimly”. I repeat, leaning more towards funk and soul.

 Let’s take a look at the pre-album: In that version of “Demoqrati”, there was a drum-sampling-beatboxing mix going. Different samples used in each track, if not, then used extremely discretely and minimally; a hi-hat sound is re-used, maximum. “Terikhna Bi Libnen”, the drums consisted mostly of very rich almost pots-and-pans type percussion, and the actual drums came in the choruses and near the end, with tambourine even. “Biwa2ta” did not appear in the pre-album, but it was on the fourth 7keeleh compilation CD (7keeleh IV). I know SOMEONE out there must have heard the pre-album version from the 7keeleh CD. It featured some very nice clunky-sounding percussion for the drumbeat. It was more hip hop.

 What about the percussion now? It is used quite sparingly. FZ provides some beatboxed maraca-emulation in “Byen7aka”, there is some manner of jingling going on in the choruses of “La Wein”, and hand-claps substitute snare in “Sunshine”. This is all even weirder when you consider who produced the album: Ghazi Abdel Baki. The man is known for his diverse, layered, genre-fusing world music.

 Now, in contrast to the underused, we come to the overused: horns. This isn’t really a universally-acknowledged pitfall of music, it’s more of a “me” thing. I would have thought it more appropriate to feature horns in only a handful of tracks, not almost all of them. The only reason I can give for this is that I think it diminishes the whole feeling of grandness that horns could give. Horns don’t have to be used in fast-paced hard-hitting compositions. They can be found in slow and dirty rhythms as well. But I prefer them being a treat that the listener is rewarded with in moments of musical intensity. There was no reward here, because they were just everywhere.

 What was the status on horns in the pre-album? “Demoqrati” featured saxophone in the end, “Khabriyten” had a trombone-like sound (actually an effected sample, but it still sounds like a single wind instrument to me anyway) as the provider of the main riff, “Shou Kamish” too featured clarinet that played a catchy riff. Not a huge horn section, but in some cases, the single wind instruments play an important role in the melody itself, and not just acting as filler.

 On a positive note, I liked how FZ was allowed to do his sound effects and beatboxing, even in the studio. They could have easily brought in DJ Lethal Skillz to lay down some cuts on “Njoom 3am Te2rab”, but they let FZ take the spotlight with an epic vocal scratch solo. They could have just recorded “Da3ess 3al Akheer” without the racetrack skit and sound effects, but they did, and I dare you not to crack a smile at least. This has proven that FZ is not just a replacement for a drummer or turntables in live shows, but a genuine component of the bands’ style.

 And this isn’t really relevant, but I was sad to see certain tracks cut and hope they make it onto future releases.

 Final Verdict: Too much funk, not enough hip hop. But despite my being a little at odds with some of the musical elements, since I was expecting hip hop with a funk flavor but instead received almost pure funk, the music and lyrics make this album a big leap for local hip hop, in new directions, or actually old ones. When we Lebanese began rapping in Arabic, we did it the way it was being done in the US andd Europe. So now, after years of moving parallel to western hip hop, Fareeq el Atrash triggers a movement of exploration of the roots of hip hop: funk, soul, and blues. This is indeed evidence that a little Arabic old-school-hip hop-revival scene is on the rise. Ladies and gentlemen, The Banana Cognacs

Album Review: Mashrou3 Leila – “Mashrou3 Leila”

WARNING: What you are about to read is THE longest most physically strenuous review of anything I have ever written in my entire life. Hope you enjoy reading it (over a three-day period) as much as I enjo-UNGH! enj-GAHH! ENJOYED WRITING IT! *passes out for days on end*

 

Well, this much anticipated album has finally been released and people have been waiting for quite a long time to see whether or not Mashrou3 Leila would cut the mustard or fall short of expectations.

 The album was produced by “b-root Productions”. I’ve never heard of them before, so this is their first ever release I assume.

 -The Look:

The look of this record took me by surprise at first, as I was expecting something more colorful, similar to their old logo and visuals, instead, the exact opposite; grayscale. A white background with some halftoney (dotty) image in grey, on top of which in black is a sort of system of axes with coordinates plotted on it. In the middle-right, the new band logo, which is very nice and geometric (I like that in Arabic typography).  In the upper-left corner, a 16-arrow compass that indicates points to the west and calls it “Sharqiyye”, the east and calls it “Gharbiyye”, the north and calls it “General Morale”, and the south and calls it “General Religion”. All of this is surrounded by a thick black border. It’s a far cry from this: http://c3.ac-images.myspacecdn.com/images02/19/l_c3e4bddb80eb4829af73cf66d70e645a.jpg. Does the gritty artwork match the music?

 This CD opens “Arabic-style”(to the right) by the way… interesting.

 Inside, there is a very artistic thank you sleeve, featuring a white background with overlaid black grid and the letters “C” and “D” at the bottom. They thank many people by writing their names by hand, some in English, some in Arabic, some have little drawings too. Among those names are “Yelostudio”, who helped in making the soon-to-be-premiered “Raksit Leila” video, “Eka3”, who asked them to participate in their “Leka@Eka3” concert series, and “Beirut”, of course.

 Inside this sleeve is the CD itself which has a very “pop-art”ish and “collagey” design printed on it. It features an assortment of brightly colored visuals and meanings that I will get to in a while…

 In the next sleeve, a continuation of the previous one, with the white background and the grid going on, with the letter “A” and “B” on the horizontal axis, and the number 1 on the vertical, there are credits listing the band members, where what instruments were recorded, and who mastered the album (Oscar Zambrano). Also, some more general “thank you”s…

 Inside this sleeve is a booklet that is opened up to reveal two things:

On one side, within a black border, a grey background with the faint silhouette of a city of some kind (Beirut actually), with a halftone effect applied, along with that recurring system of axes in black forming 48 little squares, inside every four of those are handwritten song lyrics (Sinno’s writing no doubt. I recognize that “ya2” with vertical dots, don’t ask why). I can understand them not rewriting the chorus every time it is repeated, but there are seriously some major gaps in the lyrics. Like in the “3al 7ajiz” lyrics, the chorus is not printed, and I can’t pick up on some of the words (waynak rayi7 ya ghandour?) Would have liked them to have been more precise…

 On the other side is the image on the CD in its full form (told ya I’d get to it). After all the suspense, here the mystery of the axes is revealed. They are of an architectural/ geographical nature, laid on top of a map of Beirut, but this map is riddled with images and messages here and there, with the halftone effect applied of course. It becomes clear here that the image on the front cover is an edited image of a drawing of a non-gender-specific person (has short hair, moustache, has a flower around head, wears a bow tie, wears a dress, and has a pen-uh, nose…). This is a powerful statement on gender and the LGBT community in Beirut, and a very shrewdly delivered one in fact. Also visible are the trademark owl that has appeared on the album release poster (and on your hands if you attended the concert) above an appropriate “boom” (in Arabic), a dark green silhouette of a soldier, a mosque’s dome, a clenched fist, a blue hand with an eye in the palm (the evil eye), a bomb with the Star of David on it, and other thought provoking aesthetic treats… oh, and eggplants. Lots of eggplants… At the very top, a title reads “PLAN de BEYROUTH” with the word “BEYROUTH” crossed out in red and replaced with the Arabic word for Beirut. The original unedited map is a map of “Beyrouth”, but this new vibrant pastiche of sex, alcohol, religion, terrorism, and eggplants is what we have crafted for ourselves and called “بيروت”. In the bottom left corner is the compass that appears on the front cover. I’d hang this on my wall as a poster, but then I wouldn’t be able to check the lyrics… All of this is encompassed by a thick black border.

 On the back, yet again a white background with black grid on top. There is the track list, with the tracks names written in Arabic on the left and in English on the right. It consists of “Fasateen”, “3ubwa”, “Min Al 6aboor”, “3al 7ajiz”, “Shim El Yasmine”, “Im Bimbillila7”, “Latlit”, “Khaleeha Zikra”, and “Raksit Leila”. Much to my dismay is the absence of “Zotrine” and “Arous”… In the bottom left, the b-root productions logo and a barcode, and in the bottom right, a copyright warning, most probably in response to SOMEONE smugly declaring that he/she will put up the album for download when it comes out…

 -The Sound:

Here we saw them take a more “ominous” direction. From their live performances, myspace tracks, and colorful visuals, we got the idea that they were a lighthearted fun-loving bunch of young people. When they criticized an ugly aspect of life, they did it with some optimism. But here they are trying to establish a new image which aims to accentuate on the negatives and really drive that feeling home through noises and vocal effects. I personally think it works in some places, adds a certain rawness, but in others not so much.

 Same case as Fareeq el Atrash and their pre-album: We all knew them musically as a groovy rock-funk outfit, but on the pre-album we say a more dissonant, more ambient side to them. It was awesome by the way.

 One significant factor is that we have something to compare the new sound to as opposed to being exposed to it for the very first time. As in: You might not like the new direction because you’ve gotten used to the old Leila. But if you didn’t have any prior exposure to the band, you’d be free to like or dislike this rawer sound having nothing else to compare it to and assuming that they’ve sounded this way since the beginning. It’s all up to you and your taste in the end. But actually, as for the myspace tracks, the only two of those that made it were “Shim El Yasmine” and “Raksit Leila” (the two with the most plays… hmmm), so you won’t find yourself at a loss between which rendition of “Arous” you prefer.   

 1-“Fasateen”: This upbeat little number kicks off the album. I was expecting “Zotrine”, but it’s not even on here (no, I will never let it go!) Hamed asks a girl if she remembers how she said she’d marry him despite his poverty (without money or a house), how she used to love him even though he belonged to a different religion than hers, and if she remembers how her mother saw him sleeping in her bed and told himb he was through with her (to forget about her), all of this set to an acoustic guitar tune. The violin joins in as Hamed reminds her of how they had agreed to stay that way (happy together just the way they are, despite financial issues, religious differences, and her family’s disapproval of him), paying no mind to class or what society thinks of them. Carl joins in on drums now, there’s some nice stick action I’m hearing, and so does Ibrahim’s bass which is emulating the sound of a tuba; innovative. Hamed belts out the chorus “without millions, without dresses”. Dresses symbolize material wealth, but since a dress is a piece of clothing intended for females, it is material wealth intended for her own personal gain, benefitting her. Haig’s violin plays a lovely tune with the drums getting more prominent but still quite laid back. There’s some shaker in there as well, joined by handclaps, and Omaya’s piano. Just then, it all goes jazzy; the guitar, the bass, the piano, the violin, the cymbal dominated drumbeat (well actually, it’s nothing but cymbals), and of course, the finger snaps. Hamed reminds this girl of how she promised him they would defy the norms together (she took his hand and promised a revolution); but she’s forgotten about that. He reminds her of how she changed him to match herself (she combed his hair like hers and put him on a schedule). The chorus is repeated, this time with some cheery background chants, and Hamed sings the chorus once again, reminding the girl of those once sacred conditions of their love (without millions, without dresses). It concludes exactly the way it starts off, taking the girl back to the very first question she was asked, and at this point, they both know the answer, but repeating the question serves as the final blow…

 2-“3ubwa”: You wouldn’t have realized that “ominous” thing I was talking about earlier if you just listened to this track and stopped. This is where it first appears. Honestly, I think it works well here, even though I would have liked it as a satirical- hippie-protest-style song as well, but both work. It starts out with some faint humming static. That is until the violin enters along with some thundering synth, joined by what is either some muted rapid high pitched violin playing or some synth as well, and an intermittent “ticking”, in reality high pitched plucks of the guitar. As the guitar riff plays, an ambulance is heard in the background. They’ve built up the tension quite well with the noise and the sound effects. Some hits of a cymbal and the rhythm gets going. I like the bass here very much and the drums are in equilibrium. They’re rocky, but not too much; once again, the sticks are nice touches. Bravo Carl. You can still hear the ambulance siren fading out… Hamed sings a line that I was impressed by way before the album: “Tic tic tic y’am Sleiman, tic tic tic tic boom”. Let me pause here for a moment. I don’t know how familiar people in other Arab countries are with our children’s songs, but this lyric is one of those that you just can’t be Lebanese and not get. Not because it’s a popular song, but because it is a popular children’s song, and that means that it has been fed to us since our earliest days. It is everything but unfamiliar. So now what have they done to it? They’ve turned it into a play on words (or onomatopoeia actually) concerning a titular bomb (charge/ “3ubwa”). Hearing the line, from the first “tic” till “Y’am Sleiman”, you unconsciously drift off into the song, but your childhood reminiscing is interrupted by an unfamiliar line, “tic tic tic boom”. “Boom? What’s a boom doing in a children’s song?” It brings to mind twisted imagery of things dear to our hearts being desecrated, dreams being injected with bitter reality… like what was just done to this beloved staple of Lebanese culture… or perhaps even how our dream-Lebanon has been tainted by the reality that is terror and war? Good stuff Mr. Sinno. He continues by singing of how the field that Im’Sleiman’s husband is usually supposed to be picking plums and pomegranates from exploded… the warping continues. By the way, in the booklet, the word “shaklo” ((شكلو is written as “saklo” (سكاو). Hey, I’m no better myself… Anywhwo. Guitar comes in briefly accompanied by some eerie keyboard. Hamed sings of a key in the car, and stuffing a corpse in the trunk; crime and illegal activity are thriving. He then sings of a martyr, behind a curtain, who wants to dominate the economy; conspiracy theory of some sort? What are clear are the themes of crime, death, and power struggles. The violin gets all “m2attash”, cutting in and out of the sound. Hamed continues, singing of how the sound of the adhan (the Islamic call to prayer that is read at the mosque) covered up the sound of the “boom”, and how he appears on TV (not “tilfizyon”, “tilfiyen”!) looking like an owl (the plural of “owl” (bouma or boume’) in Arabic is literally “boom”). I’m not too sure about this part here, but I know that there’s religion (fanaticism?) and media (sensationalism?) involved. He asks how he’s supposed to get into politics when everyone’s lazy and unmotivated (“mwakhkham”; this word was a BITCH to figure out, but I learned something new. Educational too!), as in, not willing to show interest in fighting corruption, and convinced that “their religion is the best color” (each sect has its own political party, and each political party has its own color attributed to it, thus: each sect has its own color). Violin plays a tune and the guitar occasionally makes and appearance. Hamed struts his vocal stuff, unleashing some powerful cries. Piano gets a little solo. The “adhan” till the “color of religion” section is repeated. Guitar has a nice little part. It all concludes with ticking leading up to several booms, followed by a single final one. Amazing lyrics, music fits them very well, overall mood is spot on.

 3-“Min Al 6aboor”: Opens with some screechy noise which is actually some speech being sped up with a tape recorder (though I think they did it several times and then pasted them together, since when the screeching is done it’s a whole different speech). A drumbeat starts playing with the screeching now coming on and off in time with it. Bass joins in, but I think it’s synthesized, no? The piano adds notes from time to time here and there as Hamed sings of how we’ve been fighting the same war for 50 years and we just can’t seem to forget, can’t seem to stop holding a grudge, and how “the country is a waiting room with a line that leads to the airport”, as in, everybody wants to get the hell out of here. Verse is repeated. If you listen carefully, you can hear some synth noise in the background. Guitar comes in, playing quite the “metal”-ish riff. Carl plays hi-hat on the drums, but that bass pounding here is actually synth. Hamed sings of how we’re sick of religion, tired of humiliation, and we miss being… hungry. Why you ask? Because we’ve been eating shit for so long, that’s why. Love that wit…  Not written in the lyrics sheet is the line at the end of the chorus “w’lsenna nbara” which literally means “our tongue’s been sharpened”, but it is actually a saying for when one keeps saying something over and over again, often ignored. Omaya adds some eerie bell sounds on keyboard. Violin joins in, Hamed’s distorted screams echo in the background, fading out along with everything else, leaving the various noises (synth, muffled speech) playing on. A slow guitar tune starts playing with the eerie keyboard in the background. Hamed sings of how he knows the place but might be mistaken about the time. The place is here, but everyone has forgotten the time, which is today. The Lebanese people, they just refuse to move on. Haig accompanies on violin as the verse is repeated, and the muffled tape recorder screeches can be heard echoing in the background as well, until all fades out.

4-“3al 7ajiz”: I saw something special in this track ever since I first heard a snippet of it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpoUSd8s8a0&feature=related. Military-marching style drums usher the track in. I think I hear actual marching too. Bass joins in, and I quite like it. Hamed takes the character of a soldier at a checkpoint (as the song is called “at the checkpoint”) and calls out to some innocent civilian in that jagal tone “pst pst pst, ya 7elow” and tells him to open up his bag, park on the right, and to show him his papers (he saws please though), and a piano note is struck. He asks where he’s come from and where he’s headed off to, asks for some ID (to2borne’), and gives some valuable hair critique (2ah yo2bosh), all the while a very catchy riff is played by electric guitar, followed by another single piano note (every word uttered till now is not in the lyrics sheet). The guitar retires, letting the violin take over and play the riff. Now Hamed takes the voice of this poor guy having to endure this ordeal (or simply himself), accompanied by some violin, it all gets mellower here. He tells of how the soldier is just sitting there for all this time, holding his gun. By the way, the gun line can be heard in the song, but the lyrics sheet has a different line in its place which says “nashshaf dammo” (his blood’s dried). This line does in fact appear in the song, but not until later. He continues, mentioning how styling his hair is his priority (the soldier that is), and how he came at him with his chest out (again, the soldier). Now for the famous chorus: It’s the voice of the soldier again who asks: “3akrout, ya sharmout, waynak rayi7 ya ghandour/ zentoot(???)” (the chorus is nowhere to be found in the lyrics sheet), in other words, he badmouths him (and what badmouthing it is) patronizing him, and asking where he’s off to, treating him like he’s some kind of child or something. I believe it’s the man who says here “3ammo”, foreshadowing a future lyric. Guitar plays an ominous melody and the soldier speaks once again, ordering the guy (ya 7elowah) to park on the right and open his bag and his trunk, and show him his papers, this time adding “w’2eh, shou ra2yak?” (if I heard right (curse this lyrical obscurity!)), in other words: “yeah, what do you think of that?”, rubbing his authority in the poor guy’s face. Everything goes mellow again. The guy says to himself that his house is here, he’s not going there to blow it up, and how the soldier dropped everything else and homed in on him to pick on him, and that he’s keeping his mouth shut because “his mother tear is worth more than him” (note: there is no occurrence of the word “7aram”, as the lyrics sheet says, or perhaps this one phrase is to take the place of all the swear words) as in, he’d rather avoid trouble rather than have his mother cry over his predicament and cause her pain and disappointment in her upbringing of him; his mother’s happiness and pride in him, and her faith in his self-control and manners, are more important to him than seeking vengeance. In fact, it’s way more valuable than just that soldier. It’s more valuable than him, his sister, his grandmother, his brother, his grandfather, his father, his uncle (from his mother’s side, “khalo”), and his uncle (from his father’s side, “3ammo”… it’s an Arabic thing, deal with it). Music gets all creepy again. A final bass note halts the music, and Hamed sings “batwannis beek, w’inta ma3aya”. This is sampled from an Arabic song entitled “Batwannis Beek” by Warda El Jaza2iriyya (thanks to mom for the info). The lyrics of that song are sung to a traditional middle-eastern rhythm, but you may notice it sounds a bit off, a bit muffled. Welly well well, what’s being done here is truly innovative and deserves much applause. The “tiki-tak-tiki-tak” is muted electric guitar with a drumstick adding a “tok”, and the “dum, dum dum, dum dum dum dum” is bass guitar and bass drum. I’ll be damned if that’s not exactly what that is right there. Either way, very impressive I must hand it to them. The music picks up now with violin and proper drums. That riff that first appeared in the beginning makes a comeback. The guy tells of how the soldier is still seated in his place and is very pissed off and once again badmouths and patronizes him. The song is wrapped up with guitar, bass, and drums playing off, with piano adding a final note. The way it ended leaves me with a feeling of unfulfillment, like the guy eventually drove away this time, but the conflict is far from resolved, as it is not just between him and this one soldier, but between us all and the government officials who abuse their authority. However, I do feel fulfilled with the musical and lyrical directions, but once again unfulfilled, with the missing lyrics and stuff on the lyrics sheet.

 5- “Shim El Yasmine”: This one’s a bit controversial with me. It was probably their second most popular song following “Raksit Leila”. I’m going to ignore the previous version for now and take it in as if this was the first time I heard it, with no prior knowledge of any other versions of it. It’s very slow and mellow by the way. It starts out with some electric guitar harmonic thingies, which are then joined by bass. Hamed asks someone to smell the jasmines and taste the… um…”kharroub-tree-branch-extract”, aw fuck it, “dibs bi t7eeni”. Perhaps these particular sensory stimulating items are symbolic to him and someone else, and will remind that someone of him. He asks the person to remember to mention him, and begs him not to forget him. No explanations needed here, right? He’s addressing a male here. This is noteworthy. Either he is speaking through the voice of a female, or this is a reference to homosexuality, which they have made quite the comment on in their album artwork. Either way, it shows how the band’s all open-minded and stuff, so bravo. He continues by expressing his (or “his in the voice of a she”) love to this person. Now comes the part people recognized most in the old version:  the whistle tune. Hamed (could be anyone actually) whistles the tune accompanied by some gentle acoustic guitar in the background, then continues addressing this person telling him of how he had liked to keep him close, introduce him to his parents, have him “crown his heart” (a “be the apple of my eye” sort of expression). He continues, saying of how he would have liked to cook his food, clean his house, care for his kids, be his housewife. All of these actions symbolize non-gender-specific loyal servitude. A feminist would claim that here there is a degradation of women, “as if that is what a woman looks for when falling in love, someone to make her his bitch” they might proclaim. But actually, here, this subservient role is not forced on the speaker (Hamed), but he himself has chosen it, chosen to degrade himself, out of adoration for this person. Touching *sheds single tear*. But this is all stuff he would have liked to do; past-tense. Now back to reality, this person is in his house, and Hamed is in another. They used to be together in the same “house”, but now they live apart, either literally, emotionally, or socially (class, religion, etc…), and he wishes this person hadn’t left. Piano plays the whistle tune heard earlier and some cymbal hits can be heard building up. After the guitar plays a little solo, it lifts the entire song up with repetitive plucking and Hamed sings of how the jasmine will forget him, as in, when the person does what the speaker requested in the beginning, to smell the jasmine, it’s like he told the jasmine to remind the person of him whenever he smells it; relaying the memory across unspeakably long geographical and chronological distances. But now, the jasmine itself has forgotten about the speaker, forgotten to remind the person of him, in other words, the person forgot about the speaker (as plants lack speech…). By now, bass and snare have married with the cymbals to form: le drumbeat. Piano plays that whistle tune once again. Hamed finally asks of the person to smell the jasmine, but this time he is required to remember to forget about him. Like someone sarcastically saying “yes yes, you forget about me now, that’s right. Me who? Who am I anyway? I dunno, and you obviously don’t remember”. It ends with final notes from the piano and a fading out of the guitar. It’s a pretty nice track on its own, and very soulful too, but as mentioned before, I have something to compare it to; The old version or “myspace version”. It too was mellow, and started out with the whistle tune and made it the driving factor of the track, while here it was just an “extra thing”. It had constant ska-reggae-like guitar strumming, whereas this one took more of an “ambient” direction. It featured violin, whereas this one had zero violin in it. The piano is still fairly the same except for a few rearrangements here and there. Same goes for guitar and bass. This one’s more “natural” I suppose. Both talk about the same love story, but one sounds pure while the other sounds a bit more artificial. Now there’s nothing wrong at all with mixing it up a bit, and the end result is listenable, but in this case I vote for simplicity.

 6- “Im Bimbillila7”: I feel pretty neutral about this one. It’s not terrible, but at the same time not “OMG orgasmic!” Hamed sings “Im bimbilli la7 im billila7, 3ala im bmbillila7 im billila7, 3ala im bimbillila7 im billila7, 7alabou”. Ummm… ok? He repeats it a second time and you can hear some noise building up in the background. The piano comes in with “wooooosh”, you can hear the bass drum thumping, and the line is repeated once again. A drumbeat starts playing, but it sounds “exotic”, can’t put my finger on it (bass-snarebass-snare, with constant crash cymbal hits), as does the bass, and the line is yet again repeated. The drumbeat is toned down (with the replacement of crash with closed hi-hat). There is some more twisting of children’s songs as we heard in “3ubwa”. This time it’s “3ammi Bou Mas3oud”. As with “Tik Tik Tik Y’am Sleiman” in “3ubwa”, the song starts off normally: “3ammi bou Mas3oud, 3youno kbar w soud”, this Bou Mas3oud fellow has big black eyes. Are they… puppy-dog eyes? Why would he have that look on his face? Traditionally, the eye comment is tossed aside with the next line, which moves on to his eating habits (“byakol, ma byishba3, 3ammi Bou Mas3oud”. He eats but never feels full, my uncle Bou Mas3oud.) Now for the twisting: “la byakol la byishrab, 3ammi Bou Mas3oud.” He doesn’t eat, he doesn’t drink, my uncle Bou Mas3oud. Aha! So that’s why his eyes are all big and black-like; poverty! We learn more about him still. He endures harassment for his money, which he doesn’t have enough of to buy gas, and he beats his wife to feel like he has at least SOME power somewhere in his life. Violin enters, playing a tune, while Hamed demonstrates his vocal abilities with “yeaaaaahhhhhahhhhh” cries. The guitar plays a little bridge. Hi-hat’s open now by the way. Back to Bou Mas3oud: How is he supposed to live this way? He’d be better off moving to the UAE, but there’s no alcohol there (the use of the phrase “ma feesh”. Groundbreaking stuff.) So what did he do?: He bought a bus (he lied and exploited his faith to acquire it too), and the radio’s fucked up (all it gets is static). Piano joins in for a while, and there’s some tambourine action, though you can’t quite hear it. Following that, more of Hamed “yeaaahhhahhh”s and some final “Im bimbilli la7 im billila7, 3ala im bmbillila7 im billila7, 3ala im bimbillila7 im billila7, 7alabou”s, and some final violin scratches.

 7- “Latlit”: This is a good one. You can hear some kind of percussion going on. I recognize the drumstick sound, but I honestly have no idea what the rest is. It’s joined by the violin, bass (which could be synthesized here as well), and handclaps too. You can hear people muttering things in the background; gossiping (“latlit” means to throw words about people and things here and there). Hmed takes the voice of a gossiper who declares that if you’re walking down the corniche (the stretch of street overlooking the sea), he’s gonna gossip. If you (a lady) walk around in a short dress, he’s gonna gossip. If you’re a couple together (oh dear lord, have some restraint you two!), he’s gonna gossip. No matter what it is, if there’s potential to cause offense, he’s gonna gossip. Some cymbal hits are added to the symphony and the gossiper proclaims: “wlek ouf, bidde’ latlit!” (Dammit, I’m gonna gossip!). Everything goes silent, except for a droning noise, and some temporary chatter (the one heard since the beginning). The gossiper declares that if he’s standing on the street corner with the intent to harass passersby, there’ll be gossip (he’ll be doing it). If you’ve been deafened, and just can’t stand a fraction of a second more, he will persist, he’s still gonna gossip. A drumbeat starts building up until some effected-guitar sound plays alone. I love this next part.  It’s followed by the violin and bass’s return and some very excellent drumming (kudos Carl). There’s some tambourine in there too. The gossiper makes sure that everyone knows that he’s “gonna gossip gossip gossip gossip…” The song ends with that guitar noise playing again.

 8- “Khaleeha Zikra”: At first I wasn’ to keen on this one, but it has been growing on me lately. This would be one of the moodier tracks on this record. It opens with guitar harmonic-noise, which is then joined by some cymbal taps, and bass. There is another guitar strumming periodically on top of the harmonic noise. Hamed’s voice is treated with reverb here. A steady drumbeat starts playing. Hamed says he hears an echo coming from far away. He adds that after he left, he didn’t care anymore. He sings “khaleeha zikra”, keep it a memory. Violin joins in. The atmosphere is just haunting here. Lyrically, I believe the speaker has moved out of his homeland, Lebanon in this, after which he stopped caring for it and its goings on, yet he still hears about it, but only vaguely, through the foreign news for example. He feels like immigrating, alone. He’ll change his hair color, put on makeup, and hide his passport. He’s trying to ditch his identity. In the lyrics sheet, the “change my hair color” line is there, but after it comes the “hide my passport” line, and after that a line that does not occur in the song, which is “i7ro2 sherwali”, “burn my sherwal”. The sherwal is a traditional garment closely associated with Lebanese heritage, and him burning his sherwal is like the most direct way of saying “I don’t want to be Lebanese anymore”. Once again he repeats, “keep it a memory”, as in, keep his past homeland days, in the past… A very nice keyboard riff is played here; it’s the best bit in the entire song. He tries drinking coffee in order to “wake up”. He wishes to forget about all this nonsense of the motherland. He’ll learn Chinese, he’ll learn Argentinean, he’ll do whatever it takes to get away and experience something else, even if just for a mere second. (Fun fact #1: There is no such thing as Argentinean. The official language is Spanish) (Fun fact #2: In the lyrics sheet, it says “ar7onteeni” (نيرحنتيا) instead of “arjonteeni” (ارجنتيني)). I believe that either friends and relatives back home, or his home country itself speaks now, and it says: “Why bother listening to me? Why bother talking to me? When I’m calling you back, when you hear me suffering…” He ends with the line “khaleeha zikra”, and the violin plays on to the sound of cymbal taps and undistinguishable piano.

 9-“Raksit Leila”: Ah, the closing track, and ironically, the song that ends it all is the one that started it all for them way back when they were competing in the 96.2 FM Modern Music Contest (and won it). Yes, it’s “Raksit Leila”. I personally like how they left it till the end, as it shows that they’re not milking its popularity among fans by putting it right at the beginning or middle even. This is the second track that I have something to compare to, so I’ll be doing that later on. It opens with some lunch chatter, which is soon drowned out by that (in)famous acoustic guitar riff coupled with cymbal hits. Bass gets the song going and piano adds periodic notes in a ska-reggae manner. Violin enters, and it and the guitar join in playing the same riff, which is quite upbeat and Gypsy-ish. Hamed sings of how he feels he’s not focused on useful matters, instead distracted by petty things (if I understood right), and how he owes someone, or someone else owes him, two million dollars. See, right after he brought up the topic of distractions, he suddenly remembers that someone owes him some cash. He continues, asking for someone to sing to him about eggplants, or do anything but complain to him about how tired he is with the state of the country The violin plays the same part it did earlier. The verse is repeated. All fades aout and we’re back at the lunch table. Piano is heard and so are some percussion instruments. Hamed sings “7obbak zalam” (for some reason) and someone let’s out an “ay ay ay ay, rrrrrrrrrr” as the music is now in full Latin mode, with percussion by Khaled Yassine, and Hamed cries out with a “yeahhhhhhh”, though his voice sounds like some effect is applied to it. Violin joins and Hamed unleashes masterful “ya leil”s and “ya 3ein”s. Then comes a whistle solo, followed by the return of the violin. It ends with Hamed repeating the phrase “mish nef3a dekhil il madraben”. I seriously have no idea what the message trying to be conveyed in the lyrics from “il wade3” up till “madraben” is…. So yeah that’s the song. Compared to the old one? This one started off with whole lunch chatter thing, and though it’s not that big a factor in the beginning, it does reappear in the middle, whereas in the old one there was a part where the music would stop and piano would build up back into it. After the acoustic guitar and cymbal intro, it was the bass that heralded in the whole thing, while in the old version it was the more prominent guitar. When the violin is first heard, it is playing its part with the guitar playing the same riff, while in the old version, it is playing it solo, and frankly I prefer it solo. There are Latin percussion instruments utilized here and an “ay ay ay ay, arrrrrrr” to match it, while in the old version there was a zalghouta and only minor percussion. I like the new percussion, but the zalghouta, it’s not the first thing that comes to mind, and I like to think that they just spontaneously came up with it and decided to go with it, just having fun . The juxtaposition of that with everything else is wonderful. That is all… This version is good and all, but it comes a little short here and there, but overall it has the same spirit, so yeah, approved.

 -Bonus Track: Following “Raksit Leila” (in the same track I mean), Hamed says “Shou? Leh?”. Wait a while… Then it starts. It is a classical version of “Raksit Leila. There’s synth strings, bass, and it is mainly piano driven, with music-box sounds too. Keep listening after it’s done… There is another classical music piece, with synth strings, keyboard, and synth timpani. I think Carl is responsible for this. It first appeared here: http://mashrou3leila.blogspot.com/2009/09/souk-el-ahad.html

 Well, this was it. They delivered, they surprised (in both good and bad ways), and the end-result did not disappoint. The production and studio-work is very satisfactory and the diversity of instruments and styles is evident. The artwork is very good, but the lyrics sheet is riddled with inaccuracies and misspellings.

Hopefully, this has gotten us familiar with their studio sound and we won’t find ourselves taken off guard by new concepts we were not used to associating with them when the next album comes around.

Oh and one last thing: I do very much hope the old myspace tracks aren’t just left there to taunt us and are someday made available (Bonus disc given away at shows? Put up for download?)

Mashrou3 Leila Artist Analysis: https://feelnotes.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/artist-analysis-mashrou3-leila/

Album Review: 96.2 FM “Modern Music Contest” – 1st Edition

Well, Mashrou3 Leila are releasing their long awaited debut album in a week, so before it’s too late, I’m reviewing their first ever album appearance: The CD of 96.2 FM’s first edition of the “Modern Music Contest” (or “Concours Musiques Actuelles” 1ere Edition). But wait there’s more! Also making their debuts are 10 other artists, whose contributions to this work I will be taking a close look at, but not too close…

First some background information. This contest was basically a callout for young musical talents in Lebanon. So anyone between the ages of 18 and 35 sent in demos before November 30th, 2008. Following that, a professional jury selected the tracks, whose performers (or some of them at least) would be brought into Tunefork, Fadi Tabbal’s studio, in order to professionally rerecord their tracks, which would go on to be featured in the CD I am about to review. The CD would come with a username and password. Each purchaser of the CD was to listen to all the tracks and then cast his/her vote online.

The finalists that appear on this album would then go on to perform in The Basement where a jury would decide on a winner, and the online vote counts too I guess.

So Mashrou3 Leila won the contest and this CD now serves as the album to purchase for Leila-holics to get their fix, as well as an echo of the other contestants who even though did not win, got the chance to actually have their work released.

-The Look: This is a very minimalistic little package, consisting of a cardboard sleeve, the CD itself, and a paper inside.

The front cover is of a black and white radio sitting on a black, white, and purple shelf with a stack of green CDs to its left and a black and white box of empty CD-Rs to its right, all in front of a blue wall. All are quite relevant as 96.2 FM would be a radio station, artists would have submitted their entries on homemade CD-Rs, and they finalists appear on an officially released record; this very one.

The back is a continuation of the front revealing more of the green CDs. There is the track list as well as a brief description which says: “All contestants were given 5 hours to record and mix their tracks, at Tunefork Studios, Beirut, with Fadi Tabbal, in February 2009. All tracks are the result of these recording sessions, except tracks 2,6 & 9 taken from the original demos.” That was insightful actually, since one would assume that they’ve all been rerecorded… Also, links…

The CD itself is a bullseye constituting (from the center outwards) blue, red, green, and purple. This release has quite the colorful theme. On its peripheries, the track list again.

The paper on the inside, which is hand cut by the looks of it, has a username and password on it, as well as instructions on how to use them, printed in both English and French.

-The Sound: Now, this is the first compilation I review, and I know that each track has a different style due to being performed by different artists, and in this case some tracks have a different producer than others. So I’ll do my best.

1- Sylvain Nassar – “Once”:

I like this one. It’s a very upbeat, very “pure” rock song. Sylvain Nassar sings of the struggles he’s faced in the past, the urges us to live life to its fullest since we only have one chance to do so. “We only live once”. There’s a nice guitar solo too. I like the fact that Mr. Nassar, an unknown musician, gets his big break singing a song about getting a big break and seizing the day. The track is very good, but nothing too radical.

2- A.Boxx – “Into the Night”: Some English rap now. This is one of the three tracks not produced by Fadi Tabbal. The beat features some distorted guitar, piano, and… handclaps. I’m not a huge fan of handclaps…  A lady sings the chorus, and then comes the rap. It’s very typical. He uses swear words unnecessarily. It’s too “gangsta” for me. Some strings are featured in the verses. A lady raps too. Same style of lyrics…  There’s better rap out there. Allow me to promote an international artist for a minute here: I present to you, the one and only, Busdriver: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32INdYsV2sU

3- Mashrou3 Leila (or Mashrou’ Leila as they are listed here, but I prefer it with the 3, it’s more Arabized) – “Raksit Leila”: Starts out pretty happy-go-lucky. “This could go either direction from here, but what direction will it be?” I ask myself. A violin joins in. “Aw yeah, this is going places!” I declare. The lead singer (who I’m not supposed to know is Hamed Sinno, but yeah, let’s face it, they won and they’re famous now) sings in Arabic, the only song in Arabic on the entire CD, in a Lebanese dialect too, about how tired he is with the state of the country and of people complaining about it. Hamed Sinno struts his vocal abilities, which are impressive to say the least. A short piano intermission that ends with a zalghouta leads into something that sounds like a blend of Latin and Gypsy music. There’s whistling too! Yes, it definitely did go places, and that’s why it won wasn’t it?

4- Sandmoon – “Sea of Love”: This is opened by a keyboard tune that is joined by some percussion. I don’t like the vocals too much… Guitar joins in briefly, as well as saxophone. I don’t find it that interesting really.

5- Soul + – “Trust Me”: Starts out with some nice guitar, drums, and bass. It’s soul and funk. Two vocalists sing simultaneously, one with a higher pitch than the other, or maybe that’s just overdubbing; Sounds pretty good. He sings of people not seeing the truth and him just wanting to feel good about himself. I don’t like how it ends with a simple fade out though, it lacks closure.

6- Anthony Touma – “Mendiant”: My French skills are very poor, so I don’t think I’ll be able to actually understand what is being said but more how it is being said, so forgive me for that. This track was not recorded at Tunefork with Fadi Tabbal. A piano tune, strings, and ride cymbal hits. Frankly, too cliché for me. Whatever he’s singing, I don’t like the way he’s singing it… I dunno, it’s all too familiar. There’s a decent drumbeat though. An electric guitar solo plays for a while, it’s not too bad. No, just… no. I let the French thing slide, but the music is the straw that breaks the camel’s back for me… sorry, no.

7- Karimbo Zone Mixity Miracle Genius – “They Wanna Know”: Alrighty! The second rap song on this record! It has both French and English lyrics. It kicks off with a weird “aaaaaahhooh” that I find kinda neat. The beat is nice; guitar and drums, like it was sampled from an old record. I like old school hip hop… Behind that there is kind of some holy chant action going on. Weird, I like. The rapper reminds me of Rayess Bek when he raps in French. The chorus features piano, and the Arabic word for Lebanon, made to rhyme with “god damn”; clever. Then the English portion of the rap. The guy raps of his love and devotion for Beirut and his frustration with the situation in the middle-east. It’s actually pretty witty stuff I must admit. It ends with the same time of scream that started it out. This is THE hip hop song of this record, bravo.

8- Elyas – “Asile de Flux”: I’m not prejudiced against the French language or anything, but it just happens that this song isn’t that original, just like “Mendiant”. The best use of the French language on the CD is in the previous track. Guitar tune, synthy sounds, with the occasional cymbal taps. The guy’s voice isn’t that bad though. Then it’s just your run of the mill rock song for the chorus, plus some piano. I dunno, why did French get pinned with such average sounds?

9- Lara Matar – “Tempest”: This was not recorded in Tunefork.This is just piano and vocals. Not looking like my kind of thing already. The lady’s voice is nice and her lyrics are pretty good, they talk about her devotion to her lover. Overall very nice, but I’d like to hear it played with a band.

10- Stephanie Merchak – “As the Light of Day Slowly Fades Away”: The only instrumental track on the album. It’s electronic from the looks of it. A synth tune, joined by synth percussion and effects. Some of the sounds remind me of Munma, but this is something in a totally different neighborhood from him. There’s an acoustic drumbeat which is nice and percussive. More effects, more synth, yeah… Very original.

11- Cristobal – “Over Song”: Finally, a fitting end to this record, Cristobal, who has gone on to achieve some success, bids us farewell with this song. It starts off with an acoustic guitar tune accompanied by cello. There’s a second guitar too I think. Cristobal sings of things being over, and people being over. There’s some xylophone too. Now he sings of things that are over not being over. There’s some nice vocal chanting too. I feel like it’s Christmas time and the whole family’s having dinner or something, don’t ask me why. It fades out, leaving us with a sense of completion.

Well, this was it. As you may have heard the first 50 times I mentioned it, Mashrou3 Leila won, and indeed they did get the chance to record an album of their own and that will be released December 19th. See you there!

Album Review (+ DOWNLOAD): Fareeq el Atrash – “Fareeq el Atrash (Pre-album)”

DOWNLOAD: With permission from Fareeq el Atrash, here is “Fareeq el Atrash (Pre-album)” for your listening pleasure. But when the official one comes out, you’re on your own dudes: http://www.mediafire.com/file/hyqtmmbvyxt/Fareeq el Atrash – Pre-Album.zip

This was supposed to be the official Fareeq el Atrash self-titled album, but since this was recorded before Chyno joined the group, it would not have presented the band as they are today. So, currently, they are rerecording with Chyno. But instead of trashing this, they decided to share it with fans by giving it away at a couple events, giving us all a generous insight into their history, instead of just sweeping this under the carpet like some fluke of an outtake.

-The Look: Though not professionally distributed, this did come with a cover and an image on the disk. Omar Khoury is responsible for all the artwork here. The front cover is a drawing of Edd and John Imad Nasr with sort of faded images of themselves on top, along with the group’s logo which is a beautiful piece of Arabic typography if I do say so myself.

The interior is a drawing of a Beirut skyline with the album credits and track list. This was mixed and mastered by Fadi Tabbal by the way…

The back cover has the track list in that lovely Arabic typography used for the band’s name on the front.

The CD itself has part of that skyline picture on it in black and white.

-The Sound: This took Lebanese hip hop to places I hadn’t seen it go before. It’s an album that cherishes actual playing and using basic instruments (bass, piano, drums) as opposed to just sampling synthesized beats, but also isn’t afraid to show off with some fancy effects and noises, and to use some more uncommon instruments (saxophone, cello, pots and pans). Furthermore, what they have up on their myspace is very basic, it only shows you the more “natural” side of them, but here you get to see a more experimental side of them, playing with effects, noises, and samples.

1-“Moqaddima”: This is an acapella track with the noise of the Beirut streets as its background music. Edd sets out his plan of infiltrating all ears, making even the deaf hear what he has to say. He comes bearing a message that he feels the need to deliver. So he asks of you simply to listen. All of this set to the sounds of a bustling Beirut street.

2- “Demoqrati”: This track is the listener’s first introduction to L’Fareeq’s musical style. It features John’s funk-influenced bass playing, a sampled drumbeat, FZ’s beatboxed drums, which might make you think “ok, so they got a guy to beatbox for one song”, but listen on and you’ll see much more of him, Goo’s equally funky effected guitar playing, Fouad Zakka’s saxophone additions that succeed in jazzing things up a bit, and of course Edd’s expertly crafted lyrical arrows that never fail to hit their assigned targets, be they politicians, society, or anything else he feels like shedding some light of truth on. This track samples part of a speech by the politician Smair Gaegae where he is trying to identify a certain mysterious concept that can be found here, unable to name it. It’s called “democracy”, and what they’re implying is that the presence of this so-called “democracy” can hardly be felt here.

3- “Lawen”: This is one of my more favorite tracks. Edd raps of society and politics while Goo provides some faint guitar strumming. A percussive drumbeat comes in, and then disappears, leaving the very funky guitar and bass to do their thing, but a new beat comes in to join them, only to be briefly replaced by FZ’s vocal percussion and then return to join the bass and guitar, which is now at maximum funk levels, with the appropriate effects and everything. The track ends with the guitar playing off.

4- “Byin7aka”: I have heard two versions of this song before. The first is Edd’s solo version with DJ Lethal Skillz which appears on Lethal Skillz’s debut album “New World Disorder”, and the other is the Fareeq el Utrush version that features Chyno, live. The Lethat Skillz version relies heavily on piano, the Fareeq el Utrush with Chyno version is basically just guitar, bass, and beatboxing, live that is, but it could go anywhere on the album really. This version is different than that new live version. This is one of the songs on this record that isn’t afraid to be “abstract” through its use of noise. It starts out with some faint guitar coupled with an eerie reverb which is later joined by bass. While Edd raps, a drumbeat plays, with bass, and saxophone interrupting from time to time. The saxophone plays over the spatial ambience of the guitar. Edd spits his rhymes once again, this time with a more prominent saxophone. Eventually it all fades away…

 5- “Qatshe'”: This is a little interlude that is basically Rabih Sakr playing what appears to be buckets and some percussion. This foreshadows the methods to be used on the following track…

6- “Terikhna Bi Libnen”: This is a good one right here. It actually sounds “happy” while still delivering that serious message. It goes to show that even if you’re talking about politics or something grave, you can still sound friendly while doing it. It starts out with one of the most memorable bass riffs on the album, with some metallic percussion, that may in fact be pots or pans, played by Samer Sagheer interrupting here and there. Edd breaks into his rap on the instability of Lebanon with nothing but the bass and the now more complex kitchen percussion. Edd raps of the 2006 Lebanese-Israeli conflict. Some jazzy piano comes into play, played by Samer Sagheer as well. As Edd raps the chorus, the piano accompaniment takes a more ominous turn, and then a drum sample solidifies the percussion already playing. That all dissipates leaving only the piano and bass, which repeats that riff that started it all. Like the first verse, the bass plays the riff along with the percussion, while this time the piano additions appear earlier on and the drum sample of the chorus breaks into the verse this time along with the added percussion of a tambourine. Edd continues his verbal assault on this particular war mentioned earlier. The chorus repeats, now with every single element previously heard playing in unison, plus some jazzy saxophone, or at least it sounds like saxophone. It’s bass! It all ends as the piano’s final notes echo and the hits of the tambourine fade away… Good production work, Mr.Nasr.

7- “Khabriyten”: It is ushered in with some noise, along with FZ’s beatboxing. A guitar tone repeats itself over and over, so does a hi-hat sound, and the bass, with a muffled grunt. All of this looping leads up to the introduction of a drum sample and saxophone tune, setting a very ominous mood, while that hi-hat loop lingers. On top of this audio collage, Edd does some storytelling. He talks of being stopped at a military checkpoint where he is questioned and asked for some papers. An odd looped noise fades in to interrupt this all, only to be interrupted itself by some Arabic samples that came out of nowhere; a man comments on how funny the situation is while another inquires as to what happened next. Edd continues his lyrical onslaught on the system and in the end, sarcastically dismisses the whole thing and suggests nobody even bother walking the streets at night in the first place. It concludes with that guitar tone, repeating on and on, backed by some crunchy noise, that saxophone tune, which then shifts into a brief segment of FZ beatboxing and the guitar improvising with some eerie reverb.

8- “Shou Kamish?”: I have mixed feelings about this one. I like the dissonance aspect in some songs, but I would have preferred it if it were a bit “cleaner”. More prominent drums, less of that background sample thing. Not all tracks have to be “Terikhna Bi Libnen” clones, but I would have liked this one in particular to be more “solid”, but actually it has grown on me (love that clarinet riff…). A man, who it turns out was John himself, yells at Edd, telling him pull himself together. He replies condescendingly saying “Ok baba”. A drumbeat can be heard building up as well some background noise of somekind. A monkey cries out, and the drums bust in along with the bass, as well as that faint background noise which sounds like a voice crying out. Edd raps on rap itself, recounting his early days writing his verses and his dedication to it today. He is joined by Fouad Zakka’s mood-setting clarinet while he raps the chorus, and even after it plays its main tune, it lingers on popping in and out (or is that the sax there?) with his lyrical progression. After he’s said all that needs to be said, it wraps the track up with some short improvisation that concludes with that background noise of a voice singing letting out its very last cry.

9- “Lawen (Marra Tenye’)”: This track is the little brother of the track “Lawen”. In my opinion, doing it “marra tenye'” wasn’t really necessary. It begins with some reverberating oral clicking and slurping with some guitar, and by guitar I mean running the pick on the tightest part of the strings, up on the headstock, to replicate a sort of musicbox sound. Bass joins in with a steady riff. Edd proceeds to rap the chorus from “Lawen”, which is followed by some lyrics exclusive to this track, so this isn’t a reprise, with faint voices hushing in the background and an effected guitar tune. A drumbeat emerges with an odd “forward-reverse-reverse” hi hat, later replicated with the aforementioned hushes. A guitar tune briefly comes into play but doesn’t stay long, returning the track to its previous format of that repetitive bass riff, the hushes, the drums, the musicbox guitar, and the effected guitar. The guitar freestyles once again and finishes off the track. All fades out…

10- “Qatshe’ 2”: The second in the “Qatshe'” trilogy. This one is of Samer Sagheer playing the drums.

11- “Sadis”: Similar feelings as the ones concerning “Shou Kamish?” It could have been more solid. A kung fu fight starts this off, along with some crunch noise, decimation I believe. A drum sample, which I really like, plays, coupled with a delicate little piano tune. This goes on pretty steadily for a while until all of this is abruptly interrupted by a horn sample I believe and some sudden percussion which is joined by what sounds like a siren which reveals itself to be a saxophone that proceeds to freestyle till the end of the song.

12- “Sabe3 Nawme'”: I love this track. It opens with an Arabic sample of a woman lamenting on someone’s unconscious state, detachment from the outside world, lack of interaction with anything, and absence of that lust for life. As a faint drum sample builds up, a variety of noises from saxophone beeps to static play while Edd can faintly be heard reciting his poetry, overlapping on himself. As the saxophone drones, it happens, the first appearance of an infectious piano tune that only teases by fading in then out, for now. The piano tune bursts back in alongside the drum sample with Edd rapping about escapism and detachment from reality with the saxophone joining in at points. Then the song takes a new direction. The Piano tune is retired and we’re left with the drum sample, a bass riff, and saxophone. As Edd continues to expand on the subject of retreating from this unpleasant reality to a literal dreamland, the saxophone improvises and wraps up the track. You can hear a clip of Edd asking why the sound is cutting. This may just foreshadow the next track…

13- “Qatshe’ Ma3 Kamal”: The third and final installment of the “Qatshe'” trilogy. It is basically a cellphone recording by Edd of a man by the name of Kamal Ghraizi singing some classical Arabic tarab. I’m being serious now, not sarcastic: sound quality could have been better. I know it’s a cellphone, but why not try to get it to be the same quality as “Moqaddima”? Raw, recorded on the streets, but clean and clear. I like to imagine this guy is a “street-person”, what I mean is, he doesn’t spend his days in an office, but instead maybe drives a cab or owns a small shop. If you think about it, this is the original definition of street poetry. They’re putting the traditional poetry of the past that people still recite on the streets today alongside this new poetry inspired by the streets of today to be recited on them, and that is what we refer to as Arabic rap. It’s a nice concept but it could have been executed better.

14- “Tzakkar Hal Iyyem”: This is a real masterpiece. It tackles an issue that not many Arabic rappers have given its significance and Fareeq el Utrush have proven themselves to me as a group that covers a wide variety of subjects. It starts off with a simple guitar tune by Goo with an equally simple bass-snare beat. Edd wants a beat that’s good. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just listenable. Someone laughs in the background. Hi-hat pops in and out along with a cymbal that you can just pick up on its slightest vibration. The mystery laugher hums and delivers a “louloulouloulouloulou”, followed by that cymbal that oh so percussive cymbal which leads into a segment of cello, played by Jana Simaan, reverse percussion, and reverberating voices. The drums start pounding and you can feel the depth. Tagging along with them is some Middle Eastern percussion, derbakke’ to be precise. And providing the main rhythm the bass riff that joins in. Edd raps of infidelity, men’s constant lack of satisfaction with what they have, and their insatiable appetite for something else. Lina Monzir melodiously sings in the background, creating this intoxicated trance effect. I can imagine walking in the streets late at night, my dizzy staggering matching the drumbeat, with the risky anticipation of an alluring prostitute greeting me at every alleyway in order to exploit the aforementioned masculine need for pleasure. Edd urges men to keep their lovers close and not to be led astray from the truth and purity of the love they have already been blessed with in exchange for cheap thrills. He gives his own philosophy on love and relates personal experiences. In the end, as the beat plays on and eventually fades out, the cello hums its way to the end of the record. Personally, those final cello notes gave me a sense of salvation, like the men saw the error of their ways and decided to stay true to their loved ones.

My analysis of Fareeq el Atrash: https://feelnotes.wordpress.com/2009/10/24/artist-analysis-fareeq-el-utrush/

Album Review: SoapKills – “Cheftak”

Today I am reviewing SoapKills’ second album to be released through Incognito, “Cheftak”. Released in 2002, it was one of the albums of the earlier days of the scene, and thus helped lead the way and helped shape the artists to come.

 -The Look: The front cover is a very visually appealing one. It is reminiscent of classic Arabic movie posters. It is an illustration actually, done on the computer. I know this for a fact because I’ve seen the photo that was used as source material. It does start looking unrealistic in some tiny areas, but as a complete piece of work, it is very well done.

 On the opposite side of this card, the credits and track list, written in gray, on top of white. One of the things that caught my eye was the very authentic-looking stamp that says “جديد”, which is Arabic for “new”, the word that sells. The thing is, it looks like it was hand-stamped, as you might be able to tell from its faded look, and very nostalgic of the past. It says “new”, in quite the antiquated fashion…

 The CD itself is just plain red, with the same album title logo as on the front but this time in white, along with a track list.

 Behind the CD, plain red with the album title in a slightly different font colored black with white outline/ shadow. I am a big fan of the red-black-white combo.

 The back cover is plain red, once again, with the track list, but in black on the right is the track list with the standard Latin alphabet track names, while in white a little to the left is one where the tracks are all written in Arabic. The Arabic word are written in their true forms as well as the rest of the, non-Arabic, track names and the results are Arabizations of English words that would baffle an Arabic reader. I find an appeal in this because I am a big fan of cross-lingual wordplay, writing English words in Arabic letters, popping an English letter into an Arabic word (رسPمد), I dunno, just being creative with letters. I find this a creative use of Arabic letters. Also, credits are printed once again.

 -The Sound: This record covers quite a lot of ground. It is not just an electronic album per se. There are acoustic guitar pieces, harmonica tunes, hip hoppy drums, hypnotic nay, etc… You’d have to be crazy not to label it “alternative”. Zeid Hamdan had outdone himself sound-wise and so did all who contributed. All songs are sung by Yasmine Hamdan in Arabic. The lyrics are well-written, catchy, and heartfelt. They always take me “there”, “there” being wherever they want me to go, whatever emotion I need to feel.

 No offense to Yasmine, and her breathtaking vocals, but I’d like to give the music here some extra attention because Zeid really outdid himself on this one.

 -“Aranis”: Starts out with an acoustic guitar tune while Yasmine sings of corn cobs, paint, and watermelons, both delivered in a soothing manner. It then breaks into this muffled mechanical sounding beat that gradually escalates in volume with Yasmine singing lyrics from the song “Koullondif” over it, later echoing as a drumbeat joins in. It ends with her going back to the first verse of the song, this time acapella, followed by the beat playing one last time before fading away. I like how the beat is all chopped up, composed of broken samples; great opener.

 – “Cheftak”: The title track of this album. It opens to a harmonica tune and minor percussion. Though it is joined by some occasional bass and the harmonica tune has an effect added to it. This segment does go on for a bit too long. It could have been shorter. Then, a completely different beat with drums and some synth sound I can’t put my finger on. The harmonica bit is reused but with some synth (vibraphone? music box?) additions. The second beat plays again, now with Yasmine singing the lyrics, the most memorable of which being the Arabic wordplay masterpiece: “sheftak 3a shifta, shiftak kashaftak”. The synth that was added to the harmonica bit earlier takes the stage once again, this time with this beat. Then an exquisite swap takes place. The drums of the second beat play but with the harmonica tune and they fit like a glove, plus some very sad organ additions appear while Yasmine sings the lyrics, exposing her significant other for his betrayal and lamenting on the situation. The atmosphere here to me is that of a soap opera (pun not intended). The music box synth makes one last appearance with the aforementioned drumbeat. This track has so many pieces that are interchanged with one another. It is very well crafted, and so are the lyrics.

 -“Tango”: This track is a reworking of the song “Tango El Amal” by Nour El Hoda. It starts out with a classic Arabic sample that fades in and out (LPF effect?); a staple of Zeid’s style. A mystical yet distinctly Middle Eastern atmosphere is created. Yasmine sings the original lyrics in formal Arabic, which makes them all that more poetic. While she delivers them, a string section sample plays in the background. As she finishes off that last line, a muffled voice can be heard which is then accompanied by another string sample. This is interrupted by a drumbeat, but it is not an ordinary drumbeat, as it is accompanied by a scratchy synth sound. The drums go silent for a second then burst back in more as an in-your-face-hip hop breakbeat! More of that classical Arabic sampling is utilized for extra percussion. The drums go all “drum n’bass” with the voice heard earlier reappearing with the string sample, then shifting back to breakbeat, then finishing off with just the string samples and the voice. This song is definitely a must hear for Zeid fans.

 -“Kazdoura”: A simply beautiful track where Yasmine really shines. It starts out with an acoustic guitar tune accompanied by a synth sound. Yasmine sings the lyrics so purely. She wants her lover to make her breakfast, but it’s far from a nagging command, and more like a playfully humble request that plays off the love between the two. These are requests, not commands. Requests that may or may not be satisfied, but are given with an air of relaxation, knowing with a certainty that they will be satisfied, not because of her loved one’s obligation to serve her, but because of love itself. These are two people who are truly aware of their love for one another. Before her craving for chick peas, hommus, she says to her lover that he looks cute. This isn’t an attempt at sweet talking him. She doesn’t say that expecting something in return, but simply, just blurts it out, out of overflowing passion. She requests for them to talk about each other’s dreams, him letting her sleep, letting her rest, and she professes her adoration for him. The acoustic guitar tune and synth that kicked off the song are played joined by a drumbeat that fades in and out. The beat plays, guitar, synth, and breakbeat. She wants him to feed her, she wants to be with him, in his house, on his bed, and wants him to hold her in his arms. The declaration of love is evident. Over the beat, her requests echo. Suddenly, a robot starts babbling some unintelligible electro language, which turns out to be Arabic. The beat is nice, but here Yasmine is the main attraction with her sensual delivery of the very honest, very passionate lyrics.

 -“Marcoslow”: This is an instrumental. It starts out with this tune played on a Middle Eastern string instrument whose name I am not sure of, accompanied by intermittent percussion samples. More percussion is layered on top, and bass joins in, then drums top the beat off. The drums then shift into a slightly different beat and a classic Arabic string sample plays. It echoes to classic Arabic movies, just like the album cover. The beat returns and the string samples are reintroduced but sliced up, and thus this piece ends. It’s nice but not too spectacular.

 -“Wadih”: This one starts out with a drumbeat and some synth bass interrupted by an occasional noise, reminiscent of that of an electric guitar, probably synthesized. Other noises also play, which is nice to hear, because noise is part of electronic music that I enjoy. As this beat with intermittent dissonance goes on, a string sample plays, and along with that Yasmine starts singing the lyrics. The drums shift a bit, but other than that the rest has already been heard previously in the song. Not really one of my favorites, though it does have some lyrics that stand out.

 -“Dub4me”: This instrumental speaks for itself. It starts out with this sound that I cannot quite specify, but it makes me feel like I’m being sucked into the music, and it ends with this harp melody. It loops several times, until the track’s beginning is heralded by one of Zeid’s classic Arabic samples. A drumbeat plays, with a flute/nay accompanying with a mesmerizing tune, all on top of a loop from that sample that laid right before the drumbeats ushered the track in. Call me crazy, but at this point, I am reminded of Beirut. The fantastic and elaborative nay playing with the constantly looping monotone of the Arabic strings is reminiscent of the contradiction of contradictory nature of Beirut life, the contradiction between the magnificent and the mundane. All of the aforementioned elements are gone now except for the drumbeat, and instead now there is guitar strumming, with muting, a bit like in ska or reggae, another staple of Zeid’s sound. They give me the feeling of some kind of “wrong”; action that is forced perhaps. One working a job he despises, or one having to break the law to make a living. Those are just examples, but this guitar tune brings the uglier aspects of the society to mind. After that, the sound heard at the very beginning of the song, the one that ends with a harp tune, is played, leading to the looping of the guitar part, this time along with the strings. After these two parts repeating one more time, the previous nay/ string part plays once again, this time with the guitar, then the guitar on it’s own (with drums and the overlooked bass that is), then with the strings joining in, and it all ends with that sound that sucked you in, spitting you back out with that harp tune as your last memory of that experience. I really like this piece. As I said, I feel the city of Beirut in this; another great Zeid-solo track. Apparently, this track was so good that the Lebanese Arabic rapper Rayess Bek wanted to use it for a song, and that song was “Choufou 7alone”. You might that the lyrics he added to the music influenced my interpretation of it, but I swear, I listened to the music sans lyrics. I talks about the hardships of Beirut life basically. The stratification, the injustice, the lack of alternative musical talent, etc… Nice!

 -“Rnbullshit”: The third instrumental on the record starts out with a chopped up percussion beat with synth scratch noises that is soon joined by a drumbeat. It plays around with that percussion sample it had looping in the beginning. The track takes a turn toward the electronic. Various synth sounds are utilized and so is the phaser effect, if I’m not mistaken. The percussion sample then comes back into play, along with the synth from the previous section. New beats are formed. It’s a tolerable track, but not really up there for me with “Cheftak”, “Kazdoura”, and “Tango”.

Overall, both Hamdans gave it their all!

Album Review (+ DOWNLOAD): Scrambled Eggs – “Jackpot Blues”

DOWNLOAD: Download “Jackpot Blues” here for free (Scrambled Eggs approved): http://www.4shared.com/file/141944083/ed9e0af0/Scrambled_Eggs_Jackpot_Blues_4-25_2009.html

Some may be asking themselves: “Jackpot what?”. Allow me to clarify:

 You may or may not know that Incompetents frontman, Serge Yared, DJs at the restaurant and pub, Walimat Wardeh every Saturday. From time to time, he brings in guest DJs, often related to the alternative music scene, to spice things up. On the 17th of October, Charbel Haber and Tony Elieh of Scrambled Eggs were selected to give a DJ set. That morning they, along with Malek Rizkallah, went into Tunefork Studios (the studio established and operated by Fadi Tabbal of The Incompetents). The last thing Serge did before heading off to the venue was announce via Facebook that there would be 21 copies of Scrambled Eggs’ new EP, “Jackpot Blues”, available for purchase. Later that night, after a day’s worth of hard work, there they were, 25 CDs, only 21 available for purchase, the others reserved for friends I guess. I got the 17th, to match my age.

 The significance of this CD is that it’s been a long time since Marc Codsi left, making them a trio, and “Dedicated to Foes Celebrating Friends” was them, still reeling from his departure. Now, this is supposed to be the result of months of deep thought and hard work concerning the development of their “post-Codsi” sound and identity, the ones fans should expect from their future, full-length, albums.

What else could I do? There's no cover!

What else could I do? There's no cover!

 -The Look: This was an unconventional release that did not come in the usual package. The only visual is a sticker on the CD itself. The image is of a guitar pedal I believe, roughly drawn, a bit smudged. It’s simple, but in a raw, DIY kind of way that I personally think fits the sound, but we’ll get to that part later. There is no credit to whoever made it, but I’m taking a wild guess and saying Charbel. The text is handwritten by Charbel, just title and credits: “Music by Scrambled Eggs, Text by Charbel Haber, Recorded and mixed by Fadi Tabbal at Tunefork Studios, Beirut, on October 17, 2009”. “Scrambled Eggs, Jackpot Blues”. There is no tracklist.

 -The Sound: Since I have found that there is not really that drastic variety between each track, I will not go into details on every single track, but instead I will just describe the overall atmosphere and my comments on it, overall.

 This is not an album you play during a party. If I were asked to specify a genre for this, of course I wouldn’t be able to define it with just one word, but the words “experimental” and “improvisational” would come to mind. I feel that what this is is “improvised rock” or “free-rock” (like free-jazz but with rock tendencies). Both elements are there. On one hand, this is the kind of stuff I’d expect to hear at “Irtijal”, and most of the tracks are longer than 10 minutes, a tell-tale sign of free, unscripted, improvisation. On the other hand, there are lyrics (well, spoken words at least, since they aren’t sung in the traditional manner), there are rock sounding drumbeats that are fairly constant which is not common in the improvisational genre, and there is also quite rhythmic and repetitive synthesizer pieces. So it is neither purely improvisational, nor entirely punk rock. It is a very carefully crafted blend of both which avoids clashing the two genres, i.e. you’d be hearing trippy noises in one track then rocking out to the next, no, they make them fit into one another seamlessly.

 These are four tracks of eerie spatial reverberations, abrupt synthesizer interruptions, and drumbeats that at times seem to guide the listener towards a certain tempo and other times add to the capricious nature of this sound, two of these tracks with surreal, abstract, and stream-of-consciousness style poetry read to it. Both the poetry tracks reference the titular phrase, “jackpot blues”. The music in each track is similar to the rest in a way, but not at all repetitive. Each has at least one unique element present that the rest of the tracks lack. At times, reverb is added to the spoken word, creating an ominous effect.

 This “improvised music that isn’t quite improvised music” has gotten me excited about their upcoming collaboration with Mazen Kerbaj, Sharif Sehnaoui, and Raed Yassine (and others), “Scrambled Eggs and Friends”, due for release sometime soon. If one of the objectives of this release is to get fans hyped about “Scrambled Eggs and Friends”, then I must say: Mission Accomplished.

 My own Scrambled Eggs analysis:  https://feelnotes.wordpress.com/2009/10/18/artist-analysis-scrambled-eggs/

 Photos of the session by Tanya Traboulsi: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/album.php?aid=159562&id=9642394745