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Hani Zahra

Along Those Lines

[Self-released; 2013]

By ; April 11, 2013 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

When talking or writing about music, calling something “peculiar” initially comes off as a rather lazy adjective. It’s one of those terms that can easily get tossed about a little too much, ready and waiting to be used when something veers off into the left field a little, drawing it away from simple comparisons or exact genres. Sometimes, though, it is entirely correct; sometimes an album comes to your ears that you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s not “strange,” which is to say that it’s not offputtingly different, causing you to hold it at arm’s length, nor is it “weird” in the sense that you don’t feel obliged to spend any time with it because it’s something wrapped up in a world of its own (a world you don’t really want to be part of for any extended period of time). Hani Zahri, however, and their debut album Along Those Lines are downright peculiar.

They don’t present themselves as anything less, though: their lead single, “Cannibal Crime (Wait Wait Wait),” imagines a dream of “work[ing] for the FBI” to investigate the titular kind of cases, and sounds like someone trying to drown out their flatmate’s of Montreal records by playing David Bowie (and vice versa). It’s all a little baffling when deconstructed like that, but it’s a tremendous joy to listen to, especially with its yelping chorus, three-piece harmonies, and elastic synths. It’s also undoubtedly the best thing on Along Those Lines, and consequently overshadows the other material.

But the rest of the album doesn’t live in a lesser light. As a whole it’s a creature with qualities that I don’t often come across when listening to music. While there is quite definitely only one “Cannibal Crime,” there’s not a bad moment on Along Those Lines. It’s forty-three minutes of perfectly amicable music that exists in its own world and on its own terms. Hani Zahra definitely have a gait of their own here, strutting about with jaunty, off-beat swagger, but they don’t seem at all intent on impressing anyone in particular, nor playing for anyone’s attention. Apart from the aforementioned single the album never strikes out at you, but it never wards you off either; it welcomes you into its world.

The opening one-two punch of “Roll Roll Roll” and “Some Day Parade” are some of the best entry points, though, and from there you can move at your own pace–much like the album does. “Some Day Parade” is particularly enjoyable with its effective drum tracks that start and stop at exactly the right moments before some hiccupping guitar playing comes into the picture. Tracks jump from one to the other without a moment’s notice, making for an unexpected sense of unity between each of the tracks. “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Prizefighter” go especially well together with their rippling and streaking intros, which can easily be mistaken for a single full on nine-minute epic if you’re not paying attention to the tracklisting.

The album works on its own terms musically. Synths tend to take the focus and can go from little arpeggios amidst a stuttering bass strut (“Prizefighter”) to sounding like the comedown track on a house LP before blaring out like sirens a moment later (“Clownfish”). They are only part of the picture, as there’s plenty of live instrumentation and of course those earlier mentioned vocal takes. No single line is fighting for the listener’s attention, though, and while it would feel incorrect to say they’re all busy working together to create something resembling a finely tuned and well-oiled machine, everything is unquestionably helping to create the effect together. That effect, as described above, is music that invites you in whenever you want to give it your attention. It doesn’t make for the most persistent or consistently engaging listening experience, but jump in at different points and you’ll find new things, like the accentuated syllables on the second verse of “Cannibal Crime,” the bellowing guitar on “Jailbird,” or what sounds like a Theremin on the verses of “Don’t Let Me Down.”

So yes, Along Those Lines is peculiar. “Cannibal Crime” aside, it can feel like a hard sell even though it’s most definitely a good album. One thing I will say about the album is that every time I tried to write words, I felt like I had to listen again to get a grasp on it, and even now I still feel like I’ve not even taken it out of its box but instead marvelled at in with just the lid off. “Don’t Let Me Down” offers some advice for this: “Spin the record one more time/ Listen twice as loud.” Sound advice; each listen tends to bring another adjective, proving that Along Those Lines is more than just peculiar.


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