Ilyas Ahmed Closer To Stranger

[MIE Music; 2018]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: dreamy reminiscence, warm folk
Others: Zelienople, Red House Painters

We are feeble creatures. In times of turmoil, we get consumed by the surrounding bleakness; we let it overwhelm us even while we oppose it, perhaps not even noticing how it influences our thinking and emotions. This way, our struggle becomes purely negative; we define it by what it stands against and forget what it is that we are working toward. That’s not to say that this labor can afford to not be negative, because it can’t. But to truly overcome and transcend the surrounding chaos, we also need joy to be a part of our drive toward change. For that, we need reminders of what joy is, of what peace can be — moments to dream our futures and to forget our nightmares, perhaps to reminiscence easier times when we were more naive and not consumed by bitterness.

The pursuit of reminding oneself about those joys can be heard on Ilyas Ahmed’s Closer To Stranger. The album feels small and cozy, in a way that a DIY basement show with friends can feel. Even the way the recordings were mixed — bright and warm, exposed in their honesty — evokes that feeling of familiarity. From the first notes of opener “Meditation On The Split Self,” it’s striking how weightless the music on the album feels; it doesn’t try to win us over, it just exists. Ilyas’s vocals — which are more upfront in comparison to his previous albums — still retain that feeling of being a part of the texture, but they no longer feel so detached. “Cancel To Reveal” is a good example, with the words being obscured only slightly by effects — not hidden, but kept somewhat shy and all the more convincing for it. I’m not quoting lyrics here, because it’d feel like a disservice to this ambiguity created between the content and the way they are delivered.

Closer To Stranger stays dreamy in its harmonies, but it still actually feels intimately tied to us, much like how a pleasing memory of the past would. Even when the overall gentleness is punctuated by playful, overdriven electric guitar, as in “Sleepwalker,” it serves as a reminder of the joy put into its creation. The album doesn’t feel like a grand album, but that’s a good thing in this context. This understated approach allows us much more space to feel welcome, to treat it as a vehicle toward remembering the importance of peace. Its joy is that of a melancholic dreaminess, but such is the joy of reminiscence. In trying times, we have to let ourselves give in to it, at least sometimes, so that we don’t forget that there is more to going against bleakness than just getting rid of it.

Links: Ilyas Ahmed - MIE Music

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