The fifth track of the debut full-length record from Glasgow’s Yusuf Azak is called ‘Thin Air’. Reverse the adjective and it’s a much more apt description. For Azak actually creates thick air: songs fashioned out of eerie and atmospheric layers of looped and digitised guitar, voice and violin. At the heart of most songs is fluent and folky guitar picking: Spanish sounding on ‘Rosalie’ maybe but elsewhere reminiscent of John Fahey. Azak’s voice is intriguing and captivating: a strained and hoarse whisper as if the singer is fighting for air whilst trying to make himself heard - something like Devendra Banhart pursuing the solitary oddness of his early records rather than the later hippy backwoods tweeness. But what really captivates is how well all the elements are combined and overlaid. Voices, sighs, hums, guitar and violin all float and echo in and out of hearing, sweep from left to right channel and back again. Each song becomes a miniature hall of mirrors reflecting sounds back in on themselves. And not all rely on the guitar either: ‘Time To Kill’ is built around overlapping and quivering strings; ‘The Key Underground’ creates a steady marching rhythm out of claps, dark piano notes and cymbal crashes.
Eerie yes but this is not the stuff of nightmares: when the acoustic guitar is foregrounded it is reassuring and crystal-clear; and some of subject matter is conventional and even comforting – see the love songs ‘Rosalie’ and ‘Eastern Sun’. Overall it tends to solemn rather than light-hearted and Azak sometimes doesn’t sound quite at ease with himself - wrestling with a tortured muse? - but even with overlaid effects for a solo performer he creates a mesmerising and immersive listen. A headphone album for today’s looped guitar freak-folk movement?
Fellow travellers in this field like David Thomas Broughton or Denis Jones can often be a very different proposition live than on record. On this video of a live version of first single ‘Eastern Sun’ from August, Azak plays it straight – just guitar and voice. You can see how he re-creates the album and his earlier EPs (due for 2011 re-release also on Song By Toad Records) on his short tour with Ethan Ash - who also has a release out today: the 4-track EP “No Early Nights” .
The tours calls into Manchester tonight at Fuel in Withington before another 7 dates across England and Scotland.
15 Nov Fuel Cafe, Manchester
16 Nov Hamptons Bar, Southampton
18 Nov The Astor Theatre, Deal
19 Nov CB2, Cambridge
21 Nov New Cross Inn, London
25 Nov Cellar 35, Aberdeen
26 Nov Gambetta, Glasgow
27 Nov Roxy Art House Theatre, Edinburgh
TIME TO KILL
Turn On The Long Wire [BUY]