- An inspired mix of corrosive and tender beats from the Iranian-American artist.
- One of the most interesting ideas I came across while researching a feature on Bandcamp earlier this year was the music journalist Miles Bowe's comparison of the sounds flourishing on the site to "modern folk music." "I think we think of folk music in the context of being a 20th century genre, when it's not, it's so much older than that and all it really is is music that is traditionally made via non-professional means," Bowe said. Wikipedia, meanwhile, defines folk music as "music transmitted orally, music with unknown composers, or music performed by custom over a long period of time."
Both definitions came to mind while I listened to Push, the second album from the Los Angeles-based, Iranian-American artist Maral. The record's 15-tracks marry modern underground movements like club, noise, dub and punk with the ancient traditions running through Persian classical music. Immediate, yet reverent to history, Push feels like a drastic reinterpretation of performative rites of folk music, a tradition that, in its purest form, helps us understand ourselves and those who came before us.
Maral made her debut last year with Mahur Club, a mixtape that borrowed liberally from Persian classical, folk and pop, as well more modern genres like '90s R&B. On Push, she frequently samples Persian classical music—in a recent FACT mag documentary, she notes the specific impact of a Persian classical singing compilation, A Century of Avaz, on the album's sound—but steps away from edits into a style more recognizably hers.
Maral's tracks don't sound like anyone else's. In fact, Push makes the critical tendency to lump experimental club producers together seem sillier than ever. "Dashti" begins with post-punk bass and a setar, distorted to resemble electric guitar. An unknown Avaz singer ululates. Then the track breaks apart into a neck-snapping, downtempo funk, heavy bass holding down the screaming setar. "No Type," meanwhile, is a bizarre re-reading of the American hip-hop track of the same name, in which a looped Persian vocal sample backs up Maral's own vocals, sweetly reversing the intent of the original's lyrics. At her best, Maral is an alchemist, making disparate samples sing, like Shadow and Dilla before her.
Some of Push's short tracks blend together, the combination of Persian vocal samples and heavily distorted trip-hop beats forming an indistinguishable tableaux of dread. The most memorable cuts bookend the album, with surprising spoken-word cameos from Lee "Scratch" Perry" ("Protect U") and Penny Rimbaud, founder of the seminal anarchist punk band Crass ("They Not They"). Perry, the dub legend, sneers against "all your dirty money," while Rimbaud pledges to "stand against the ignorance of might and the cruel sophistication of collateral revenge."
"The songs with the Iranian samples have this feeling of spiritual melancholy that is an ingrained part of being Iranian, and I made them thinking about the horrible impacts the sanctions and in general USA's actions have had on the country and how it just never lets up," Maral writes in the press release. "The western imperialism that is hell bent on destroying the people in the guise of 'saving them.' The songs are kind of my battle of not letting the negative thoughts overcome me and wanting to pass down the beauty and feeling of perseverance that is a part of Iranian culture and music." On tracks like "Lita's Song," with its hopeful arpeggios, and the closer, "Salam," a reflective, shoegaze-style wash, Maral finds solace, even ecstasy, amidst the darkness.
01. Kerman Wobble
02. Protect U feat. Lee "Scratch" Perry
06. Sweet Thing
07. No Type
10. Sweet vs. Heavy
11. Let the Distortion Sing
12. Vortex in Love
13. Lita's Song
14. They Not They feat. Pennyt Rimbaud