“Without translation would I be limited in aim?” Gathering from a shape-shifting life experience, a polyglot 28-year-old born in Iran and brought up in The Netherlands communicates to an international audience about identity, ambition and transformation on one of the year’s most rewarding headphone journeys.
ISON, the debut album from Sevdaliza Alizadeh, is spellbinding due to it pushing boundaries musically and conceptually and it’s perfect balance in production. It’s experimental yet cohesive, philosophical yet emotive and ambitious yet consistently focused on its messages.
The intoxicating communication is coated in layers of genre-blending creativity that hop from Banks-like alternative R&B to Danny Elfman style orchestral drama to elements of Jazz to form into unique and sensual avant-pop and is encased in an epic time length that’s comparable to Janelle Monae releases in justification.
Sevdaliza incorporates motifs through ISON that make it different but united in sound and each one is fascinating. Firstly attention goes to the bass. Crashing metallic beats in mono mode associated with 90’s triphop artists such as Portishead and Massive Attack guide most of the nocturnal compositions along and add a nostalgic nod to that decade.
At it’s slowest it can sound like Neneh Cherry’s “Woman” (“Amandine Insensible“) but at it’s darkest and most disorientated veers in Aphex Twin’s take on IDM (“Hubris“).
In the last chapter of the album, on tracks “Replaceable” and “The Language of Limbo“, Sevdaliza adopts a drumbeat and double bass of seductive lounge jazz, bit reminiscent of David Lynch films. As you may guess, the album is never dull.
Then there’s also the use of mandolins and shivering cello (for example “Do You Feel Real“) that highlight Sevdaliza’s heritage, give her music an underlying flavour and transform the listeners on an exotic expedition to her birthplace of Tehran, of which her and her family exiled as refugees from when Sevdaliza was at age of five.
However the most significant motif is perhaps the anti-pop production that rebels against polished chart music. It rebels against the rules of pop expectation. Apart from the moments of silence that would give radio presenters nightmares, it’s a record that is never far away from purposely-placed sounds of malfunctioning.
The loop beats are intentionally not seamless occasionally disjointed and haphazard and get stuck in a way that CDS did in car stereos before the MP3 eliminated that problem. Sevdaliza’s vocals also glitch unexpectedly like an virus-draining robot from an ominous future. But it’s much more than just an exercise in embracing quirky production tricks.
All this erroneous environment is a metaphor to highlight how human and prone to vulnerability she is, as explained by the lyrics “I am sweat, flaws. I am veins, scars” (“Human“), “The flaws that perfect us and all the affection as they infect us” (“Shahamaran” – one of a few references to mythical creatures) and “It shouldn’t hurt this much to be your angel” (“Angel“).
As a whole, ISON’s core themes are about growth in identity and fear surrounding change, something that Sevdaliza has overcame including her switch in career from professional basketball player to musician and the adopting of the Netherlands culture.
Sevdaliza’s study on identity from a female perspective is most intriguing. Music videos, promotional photography and the album’s memorable cover sleeve (Sevdaliza’s face sliding off a sculpture) come together to help bring the songs about femininity to immersive life.
“Hero” looks at motherhood describing the bodily changes during pregnancy as worth the experience if the mother is rewarded by becoming the child’s first idol. However things aren’t always this simple as stated by a line that projects possible rejection: “I can never make you love me“. A promo shoot with Sevdaliza and her identical looking mother wearing the same clothes highlights this special connection.
On “Amandine Insensible” and “Marilyn Monroe“, Sevdaliza tackles stereotypes of female character, on the latter she discusses about the deceptiveness around sex symbols and on the former she discusses the modern stock categories of her gender, as backed up by a video of women including exercise enthusiastic and call centre operator with copyright logos over their image.
One of the most powerful statements is in “Love’s Way” though, a track about empowerment in relationships and the refusal to be submissive. In this, Sevdaliza employs a similar technique to Paolo Nutini’s “Iron Sky using” a preaching speech guiding followers to be free. In an intimate close-to-the-speaker fashion reminscent of Madonna and Lana Del Rey she also gives her own monologues in the gothic “Do You Feel Real” and the uplifting “When I Reside”.
On said penultimate track she states “Neither time can frame, the phenomenon of purpose. Neither I can frame the blessings, nor the burdens“. It’s a thought-provoking message on identity and sums up on how in just her first album she’s showcased a kind of maturity and philosophical intelligence that it takes most other artists years to create.
Sevdaliza’s ISON album is out now via Twisted Elegance, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Matt Hobbs