If you were to judge an album by its cover, the handmade coat of arms that adorns the sleeve of Istiklaliya doesn’t give away much. Aufgang, spearheaded by pianists Rami Khalifé and Francesco Tristano, are a band that are considerably more eccentric than their rather basic (on paper) set-up of piano, electronics and drums would suggest.
One way to look at Istiklaliya, Aufgang’s second album for Infiné, is that it’s a combination of the vibrancy of live performance and the abrasive bells and whistles of synthesisers. It’s a simple idea, but this welding together of classical flair and buzzing synths sounds like a new frontier entirely. The journey that they take the listener on is an exhilarating one that will instantly demand repeat listens.
Both the acoustic and electric elements are given equal weight throughout the duration of the LP. The analogue sci-fi bleeps of Ellenroutir burst out of the speakers with unbelievable power and energy whilst Diego Maradona features a menacing bass that dips in and out until it finally goes into overdrive and spirals out of control. On the flip side of the coin is African Geisha. It’s as far removed from the brash stylings of the rest of Istiklaliya as possible – a beautiful piece of music that is effortless in its execution and is one of the album’s high points.
Not everything is quite as immediate and there are times when they come across as outright foreboding and evil. Abusement Ride’s combination of scattered piano notes and almost claustrophobic vocals puts the groove firmly in the background, which is a bit of hindrance. There’s also the constant risk of veering too much between different dynamics, and it’s not entirely avoidable. Rachel’s Run is a closer that takes a bit of time to get off the ground, and when it does it doesn’t seem to know what to do. What should be a sweeping grand finale sadly fizzles out (as does the hidden track that comes a few minutes after).
Istiklaliya is attention-grabbing from the get go. Even if it’s hard to fully grasp what exactly is going on in Aufgang’s spirited concoctions, it’s still easy enough to just go with the flow. It is a gentle modification of the template that’s served them so well before, with the new ideas they’ve incorporated only serving to add more drama and adrenaline. Above all else though, it’s meticulous and a perfect showcase for the individual talents of these three performers. This still feels like a band that have a lot more to give but, for the time being, their focus is on refining their sound, and it’s a job they’re doing pretty well.