It’s a millenial thing, this idea that everything should just appear to you when you want it. The commercialised (or should I say, ‘advertised’) world is beside itself with bending to our whims and needs; a constant stream of content delivered on demand. Demand. That’s a dangerous word. Bad things happen when you build the world around what you perceive ‘demand’ to be. There is arguably little proportionate demand for opera or the British new complexity movement; but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t vital, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be part of our perceptual whole. Yet in a saddening swirl of misfortune, orientating towards a specific demand has bottomed out the music industry. The demand for free music post-Napster is insatiable, equalled only by the desire to have everything instantly accessible all the time. It’s so numbing. Get me not wrong, I am a huge fan of Spotify and how it has allowed us to control over the way we discover music (of which it proportionally pays far higher than radio); but it still puts me in a quandry. I miss the romance. I miss the struggle. Having to order a CD into Longplayer in Tunbridge Wells and waiting the weeks for it to arrive. The sheer thrill of delayed returns as much a part of it as anything. Yesterday, in the midst of a white Rioja haze, I got the romance back.
Salem Al Fakir is a Swedish multi-instrumentalist and has the distinction (shared with Veronica Maggio) of being the first artist I really, truly got into once I landed in Scandinavia. He has no box and veers wildly between folk, jazz, pure-pop, electronic experimentalism and orchestral soundscapes. I felt an immediate kinship. Yet my experience was wholly through the prism of my lovely Wes’ Swedish Spotify account and a couple of iTunes purchases she made as a teenager. The moment we decided on sharing my paid account (tied to a British card) and closing her free one, I lost access to Salem. Initially I was a little despondent that his output wasn’t available internationally, I had a demand that was failing to be fulfilled. Nowadays I think it was a pretty smart move; to buy Ignore This (the parent album for ‘Part Of It’) I had to go through the arduous process of changing my country from the UK to Sweden through iTunes which involved not only inputting new payment details but also changing my address on three separate pages. The struggle made my appreciation of the final result so, so much better because I had wanted it so badly. Ignore This now has a story. That said, without a quality of music there would be no point in any of this. Something Salem knows all to clearly.
Wes never owned ‘Part Of It’. It was only once I settled and explored her Swedish Spotify that I was able to start filling in the blanks of her collection. You know those moments when music is bubbling in the background, providing a happysad soundtrack to your life as you imagine unknown voyeurs marveling at how John Hughes your life is. You know when your mind then locks into some little grain of audio sand and you have to drop everything to actually focus on what you are listening to. That. That happened in the middle of making dinner. I had to stop as my brain processed what was going on. On the surface ‘Part Of It’ is just a modal synth-led bit of expressive electro-pop. 3 minutes 46 of pleasant sounds and funky beats. Simple. But listen to those beats; listen to the 3 competing textural layers, listen to how off-kilter the bass drum spasms, listen to how the 4 beat is implied instead of voiced. The whole construction presents a slow, languid pulse beneath the frenetic clothes of drum hits. Listen to the meticulous synth arrangement; 80s string chords, subtle choir hints and bright melodic accents supporting both the drums and the euphoric chorus melody. It’s like looking into the watch mechanism and only seeing two hands spin round. This sheer amount of complexity behind the music gave it an edge that I couldn’t resist.
Then you have the lyrics.
The best art juxtaposes. It makes you think. This beautiful, beautiful music. This infectiously singable euphoria is about domestic abuse. After setting the scene of a victim weighing up escape (“I dare you to take a step outside/get on up, get on up/the train is going that way”, “I dare you to take a step outside/so afraid, so afraid/of opposite directions”), Salem drops all metaphor and pretence. “How does it feel when you beat your wife?”. The harmonic support, so pleasing and kind, does nothing to soften the blow. The ‘it’ that we don’t want to be a part of takes on a myriad of connotations. It could be the victim wanting the suffering to end. It could be Salem speaking from an experience he may have witnessed. It could even be us, the voyeur, shocked at the scene but still turning our backs, fingers in ears, singing pleasant melodies to ignore the horror.
This is the best music. Take it on whichever level you like but be aware that there is depth if you peer under the surface. I am personally gutted that Salem has retired from solo work, it truly is some of the best I have ever heard. If you get the chance to listen to or, better yet, buy any of his albums, I thoroughly recommend it.