This is an album to fall perplexedly in love with. It’s hard to say exactly why, but folksinger-recluse Yusuf Azak’s new record seems destined, given the chance, to make a few people very happy.
On many levels, Go Native is actually quite irritating. The melodies meander, the guitars are too twiddly, and the lyrics are incomprehensible for much of the album’s duration. But after about three songs, it all starts to seem very charming.
That’s not to say that there’s a sudden leap in quality. But then, the first three tracks weren’t bad to begin with. Going back to listen again, the misty sunshine of it all starts to make sense. These are really quite odd, surprising pop songs. The openness of approach and lack of pretension is what makes the whole thing, at first, so darn confusing and afterwards so utterly rewarding, because people making music this technically proficient are often showing off. It takes a while to realise how utterly necessary and unpretentious all the twiddling is, and how enjoyable.
The promotional material from Azak’s label, Song, By Toad, describes his sound as ‘wheeze-pop’, which is fitting, as his voice is recorded in a dusty rasp. His subdued vocal technique keeps the lid firmly on songs such as Sensitive Cell, the harmonies and melody of which are sunny without seeming harsh or false.
The closest thing to Azak’s sound in the modern mainstream is probably to be found on Graham Coxon‘s The Spinning Top. Coxon, however, is much more willing to litter his songs with hooks and separate out his textures. Azak’s music isn’t anywhere near ‘catchy’. It’s too self-absorbed. And the various instruments are difficult to separate, tending to get lost in each other. That, probably, is where the charm lies – such harmless musical self-interest as this, thrown open for your ears, makes you feel as if you’re in on some warm little secret. Nice is a horrible adjective, but that’s what Go Native is. It’s really, really… nice.
Go Native is a little more restrained than much of Yusuf Azak’s previous work. The strings that featured heavily on 2010’s Turn On The Long Wire are almost completely absent. It will make Go Native a less problematic first encounter with Yusuf Azak than Turn On The Long Wire, where at times, the lavish instrumentation became just slightly too much. Going the wrong way through his back catalogue might be more rewarding than going from the beginning: Go Native’s a pool of warm water to dip a toe into in preparation for Azak’s other work.
Dreamy, smokey, whimsical but a million miles from stoned mysticism, Go Native is the idiosyncratic product of a highly individual talent. An impossible record to hate, and an easy one to love (after that initial double take), Go Native won’t change your life, but it might lighten your days until summer returns.