Saint Abdullah, "To Live A La West"
I am a bit late to the party with this project from "NYC-based, Iranian-Canadian brothers" Mohammed and Mehdi Mehrabani-Yeganeh, as they have been steadily releasing oft-killer music since 2017. This is their first album for Important, however, and it makes for a perplexingly unrepresentative introduction to their work, taking their more industrial tendencies in an unconventionally jazz-inspired direction with mixed results. That said, the brothers make a conscious point of attempting to "present new ideas" with each fresh release, so a truly representative album may never exist. Instead, each album is a snapshot of their thoughts and inspirations at one particular stage of their evolution. Similarly, the brothers are unswervingly devoted to making their music personal by rooting it in their own stories. Conceptually, that makes To Live A La West the Saint Abdullah album inspired by the time the brothers were allowed to attend a dance after their sixth grade graduation. The album is quite a bit harder to define stylistically, however. While the brothers cite Jon Hassell's Fourth World aesthetic as one major source of inspiration, I cannot think of any artists who explore similarly eclectic territory to this album‚Äôs curious mixture of free jazz and industrial-tinged experimentation mingled with shades of electronic pop and Iranian music. To my ears, this album could not be much further from the sights and sounds of a middle school dance (even filtered through psychedelic sensibility), but the best moments achieve a kind of strange beauty akin to Carter Tutti Void teaming with up some Egyptian jazz guys to record a very strange and unconventional film soundtrack. The other moments are considerably harder to explain, as they resemble industrial jazz vamps made by an AI whose primary influence is '80s arcade game sounds.
This is one of those albums that starts out extremely strong, then gradually unravels and yields diminishing returns as it unfolds. If To Live A La West began and ended with "A Lot Of Kings," however, it would be damn near perfect. The duo are joined by trumpet player Aquiles Navarro and someone named Kol for a wonderfully simmering and smoky reverie of industrial-damaged and static-strafed jazz noir. The first hints that something has begun to go awry appear as early as the second piece, however, as it sounds like someone is throttling a modular synthesizer over an erratic, subdued, and ramshackle drum machine beat. It still ends up being a strong piece, as it is achieves a kind of jabbering, go-for-broke catharsis of squiggling electronic bloops, but I definitely felt that lack of a solid melodic component. The brothers next hit the mark again with the stomping, mechanized juggernaut of "Like A Great Starving Beast," as guest John Butcher enlivens the proceedings with a fiery sax solo. From that point onward, however, the brothers are on their own and they definitely chose a mystifying sound palette. Historically, Saint Abdullah are at their best when they aim for something akin to an Iranian Esplendor Geom√©trico with a strong taste for dub and sample collage, but they largely repress those tendencies on To Live A La West. In more concrete terms, that means that this album has plenty of cool grooves and foundational motifs, but they are almost always pushed to the background to focus on trilling sprays of blooping and bleeping melodies that elude any familiar scales or patterns. While the mechanized dance menace of "Furthermost" is a notable exception, the rest of the album lies somewhere between "chromatic free jazz shredding on a keytar," "someone loudly playing theremin over a '90s Aphex Twin album," "a Herbie Hancock album jarringly interrupting an S&M show," and "a modular synth player trying to mimic bird songs." Strange choices one and all and rendered even stranger by the existence of companion cassette of the same name on Cassauna. I am not sure why the brothers chose to release two similarly uneven albums in the same vein rather than a single solid one or why they did not enlist more collaborators for their ambitious jazz foray, but I do not feel they put their best foot forward here. In any case, Saint Abdullah is a great project and "A Lot of Kings" is a great song, but this is probably not the best place to start for the curious.
Samples can be found here.