Seapony Has A Vision of breezy charm; Rizan Said is King of the Keyboard
(Burrito Thirty/Lost Sound)
This writer confesses to having a soft spot for several types of music for which he is often less discriminating, and among them are certain strains of indie-pop, which serve as a sort of aural comfort food. Labels such as Slumberland, Flying Nun, K, Shelflife and Sarah have offerings that tap into this nebulous aesthetic, where pure pleasure wins over any notion of ambition or pushing the status quo.
Take a few chords, a pretty voice and some catchy melodies that aren’t insipid. Formulas can serve a purpose in music—think about the fruitful “girl-group” era of ‘60s pop, which was almost exclusively about the perils of love—where what a song is about is less important than how it is about it, to paraphrase a quote from Roger Ebert about film.
This all sounds apologetic and one step away from groveling, but it shouldn’t. The album at hand, A Vision, is the third full-length outing from the Seattle pop group Seapony, and it doesn’t need to bear the weight of the world on its shoulders. What struck this writer about it was its effortless, unpretentious charm, breezy and never overwrought, with a basic lyrical vocabulary that doesn’t draw too much attention to itself.
The band has disbanded since the album came out—self-released on the band’s Burrito Thirty label and also on cassette on Lost Sound.
With several three-minute numbers, it goes right for delicate pleasure centers, with guitarist/vocalist Jen Weidl singing softly and tenderly, perhaps comparably to The Softies’ Rose Melberg. Electric guitar lines from Danny Rowland are clear, taking from the substantial influence of The Smiths’ Johnny Marr, with a little occasional fuzz in the mix, like on “In Heaven.”
Perhaps the album’s sweetest moment is “Hollow Moon,” with weaving acoustic guitars and a serenade of crickets in the background, and while A Vision isn’t going to take a place in the indie-pop pantheon, the fact that it likely sounds just as good today as it might have if it were released 20 years ago, says something.
King of Keyboard
Quick question: who are your top ten favorite Syrian techno artists? I know what you’re thinking, “I can only pick ten?” But seriously, for most Western world audiences, there’s only one prominent name, and that’s singer Omar Souleyman, who has worked with the likes of Björk and Kieran Hebden (of Four Tet) and has performed at the Bonnaroo and Big Ears festivals in Tennessee.
A case could be made that Souleyman might not be where he is today if it wasn’t for his two-decade-strong collaborator, the keyboardist Rizan Said, who is responsible for the distinctive, whirling soloing heard on Souleyman’s work.
Now, with the instrumental full-length album King of Keyboard, Said takes the spotlight with his modern take on dabke dance music—which he has played at numerous Syrian wedding parties—rapidly tapped out on Korg keyboards with an unabashed artificiality.
With just a few exceptions, like the sustained notes on “Electric Mawwal” parts one and two, Said often plays a game of tonal hot potato, where he is compelled to not linger on one note for too long. Imagine “Flight of the Bumblebee” if it used Arabic scales and was played using a brash, reedy yet breathy keyboard sound, with borderline-cheesy drum machine rhythms propelling it.
The sheer jittery relentlessness of the music could very well cause some people to be nervous or even annoyed, while others will be stimulated by it. Without Souleyman’s vocals on these solo pieces, Said does just fine by engaging in call-and-response exchanges with himself, either playing in different registers to distinguish his “voices” or alternating between melodies and tight beatbox hand-drum rolls.
King of Keyboard is all about momentum, with Said always on his toes with near-constant improvised soloing, without the figurative safety net of strict motifs upon which to fall back.