Following up EPs Gazelle and Light Procession, Ysaf Azak presents his debut album, Turn On The Long Wire. The mystical poeticism implied in these titles is strongly evident in the aural intentions of this record, sounds pieced together in a layering mix of lo-fi mono and digital looping techniques. “That folky, lo-fi element became a part of my sound,” says Yusuf, but the overall effect is more – elusive, intangible, insubstantial; with something of the epic and the ancient, and a touch of fairytale romanticism.
Fading, ebbing and flowing violin and shifting bulges and sheets of hazy backing vocal create misty clouds of undulating, drifting sound. Yusuf resides and composes in Glasgow, and perhaps brings something of the ancient myths of the highlands and enigmatic grey winter skies to his work. Even the vocals themselves are soft, without harsh angles on syllables, with weak enunciation, so that vocals drift by and through like clouds. It takes some time to become accustomed to this delicate sound.
Yusuf’s music is based firmly around strings, interwoven lo-fi textured guitar riffs and wafts of vocals used almost as an instrument in their own right. There’s a definite classic Beatles psychedelic vibe, particularly in Thin Air, that drifts insubstantially, touching on a misty grey beauty that only just holds together. Stepping Stone has the most comprehensive, linear melody, with an enchanting haze of backing vocals and waves of warming instrumentation that offer a more solid texture than other tracks. The Key Underground mixes more modern sounding clapping beats, strong melodic piano and vintage record crackling with distant hill drumming and slightly off beat ancient, tribal sounding vocals to create an intriguing mix up of old and new reminiscent of Glasvegas.
A stunning violin section on title track Turn On The Long Wire is worth listening out for, as are the guitar riffs in Christabel; they play together and dance, coming into their own towards the end in a brief improvisation. Sadly this closing track finishes with a disappointing, anticlimactic fade-out – when a single ringing guitar note would perhaps have better fixed the poignancy of the track in the listener’s mind.
Though heartfelt and emotive melodies might bring to mind James Blunt or Joshua Radin, this is not your average Radio 2 pop record. Yusuf’s breathy, fragile vocals do take some getting used to, his structures do tend to become somewhat repetitive, and there is little variation between tracks. Captivating or dull, delicate or frail – this is an album for a selected audience.