REVIEW: Shaz Yousaf - "Some Things"

By Mike Ventarola

Chain Border

Shaz YousafIt is no mystery that every artist/band wants to be the next big thing. It is also no mystery that "industrial" music is not one of my favorite genres to review, so getting a good recommendation from me in this genre is tougher than from many of my contemporaries. Shaz Yousaf's CD came in the mail from my sadistic editor. I had previously requested not having to review "industrial" music submissions due to my lack of knowledge and desire for the genre, however, here I am. Needless to say, when the press kit mentioned "influences" from Nine Inch Nails, I needn't say how disgruntled I was about this forthcoming assignment.

All that said, it is with great joy that I can report that Shaz Yousaf creates music UNLIKE anyone else in the genre today. His work has been featured by NearDark Productions, a small theatre company currently based in The University Of Kent, in Canterbury England. Beyond all of that, Yousaf's music IS dark while still maintaining a deep resonance of industrial and experimental motifs. Listening to this work, one can't help but feel captivated. Few, if any, of the tracks would work in a club setting. Yousaf pegs this as "new industrial music," and I am happy to report it lives up to its hype. Within the confines of the tracks, one will not only find the prerequisite industrial elements, but also bits of tribal, ethereal and dark ambience as well.

Dtura opens the CD with a certain malevolence from the future. There are tones of noise and vocal samples that one cannot make out too clearly. It is the future of the world in fast forward while inhabiting a surrealistic state of mind. Funeral didn't provide the dirge element that I was anticipating. Instead, it crafted a sense of overbearing pressure. It made one feel as though they were the corpse, traversing to the open pit, awaiting deposit in a cold, barren plot of earth. This broadens outward towards heavy percussion and what can best be described as morbid electronic groans. Simply something that will be heard as "delicious" to dark music fans.

Mesh: HD is yet another title that is not explained in the press kit. It is an odd marriage of very heavy electronic noise effects suffused over classic sounding piano work. It is the type of track that unnerves and calms the listener simultaneously. This track is amazing for its ability to bring the listener to two opposing emotional responses to such depth. It isn't too often where one can create a sound that would make the listener feel tense and serene at the same time. Dirt Trance at its opening slowly unfolds for the listener. Dark intonations are in the distance, but we hear them approaching. The anticipation is released with macabre style watery knocking sounds similar to those from A Murder of Angels. One could fathom that this is also the trance for the dead. Its pervasive quality manages to imbibe all that is funereal in feeling without having to resort to anything even remotely clichéd.

Hall plays with a spatial intonation, where one feels as though they are riding upon an intergalactic ship. Just when the ears are accustomed, the sound becomes big as though out of a television program credit opening. Music is clearly evident here, but the interesting aspect is the ability to bend sound as well as give sound a "watery" substance-like feeling once again. SV opens with a simple piano-like lilt and cello wail. We are presented with a track that at once wants to be morose as much as jovial. The notes between the high end of the piano essence and the bittersweet feeling from the cello sounds play against each other without overpowering either. As it progresses, there is an underpinning sound as though from Ancient China, which manages to coalesce with the entirety of the music.

Eneena is a surprise track because it included vocals, unlike the instrumentals of the preceding and following work. The track isn't industrial per se as it's more of a blending of avant garde modern alternative music with a number of unique touches. Towards the end of the track, the vocals kick in with a loop that incorporates the industrial, rock, trance, and psychedelic realm. D Machine is in line with the standard industrial fare that has metal intonations, clanks, white noise, scratches and the entire hodgepodge that the genre is known for. In addition to all of that though, the track doesn't try to be a "club" piece. This is experimental industrial married to apathy and dimness all at the same time.

Ninja is given the pleasure of being tracks 12 AND 13 here. Considering the name, one would naturally assume a bit more of an Asian influence at the outset. Instead, we are given electronic notes/blips that seem steady and focused. These sounds take on a life of their own as they are bent in such a way to convey a feeling of concentration. Just as one gets comfortable with the sound though, it picks up with the percussion. There is yet another tribal element at play here that could work as a soundtrack somewhere. This isn't the "martial arts" type of industrial music that you would hear in a sequel to Mortal Combat and that ilk. This is more Sundance Film Festival experimental/avant garde that uses sound elements as effect to elicit a mental response from the listener.

This reviewer will persist with the contention of disliking the majority of "industrial" music currently available in gluttonous proportions for the angry kiddies. However, I tip my hat to Shaz Yousaf for creating an interesting body of songs that do not sound like every other "industrial" band on the market. It is evident why a theater company would utilize his work. It is unique, new, avant garde, experimental without being too far over the edge and more importantly, it IS dark. The inherent murkiness may not be as pervasive as some of the leaders in the goth underground, however Yousaf gives it his best by tweaking odd notes from somewhere and placing them in a shrouded cloak of midnight. This isn't your typical industrial music, it is electricity given life, it is sound formulated to shape and bends before our mind's eye. It is a bit odd and not for the faint of heart, nor your average goth disco dolly who hasn't a clue. Clearly, Yousaf didn't wander down the road of commercialism and opted for creating work that fuses sound and art cohesively. Such integrity and creativity must be applauded at all costs!

The sad thing about all this creativity is that it most likely won't ever be heard in any of the underground clubs or on internet dark radio stations. Nevertheless, like attracts like. One can hope that other dark music fans with bright minds will eventually seek out this work. This isn't the type of music that will fit in snuggly on a Saturday evening with a few friends chilling. It is a lone experience, one that has to be absorbed in private without distraction and preferably at a late hour with the headphones on. Each listen oddly changes a bit and brings out a different intonation than you may have heard initially, at times rather radically I might add.

On the downside, the one page press kit barely scratched the surface to give enough information about the artist or who may have contributed to the recording. Those interested in that sort of biographical thing will have to contact him yourself. Even the neatly designed web page barely gave any information, but it did offer surfers the chance to download some of these tracks for free. Still, it would have been a bit more interesting to understand the artist behind the work. This wasn't some teen sitting at home dicking around on a Casio for a few years. It clearly has the earmark of one who went to great lengths to say something yet provide a ton of mystery and intrigue. As much as this reviewer may dislike "industrial" on the whole, one cannot help but notice that a lot of effort and talent went into the creation of this work.

All one can glean from the press release is that the music is comparative to Nine Inch Nails, Sepultra, Tori Amos and Aphex Twin. It also informs that it is "dark, tribal, tranquil and original." Barring the comparisons, Yousaf is in a genre and world of his own design. He needs to know this and state as much for future reviewers, as he sells himself short about his ability. His press kit lives up to its statements because it is tribal, original, dark and oddly enough, tranquil in the oddest of places. It is also unlike anything most people have heard to date. None of the influences mentioned have anything over him here!

The other downside, and I don't mean to single Yousaf out, but this is important and a LOT of artists are guilty of it. The lack of a cover or slip of paper which gives the names of the tracks. Not having the track names available while the CD is playing can be quite maddening when we are under rigorous deadlines. It is frustrating to have to rip out a CD to locate and write the song names because of such a silly, yet very vital and helpful detail was missed. In this case, at least the CD HAS the track names listed, unlike some others that have crossed this desk in the not so distant past.

Considering the craftsmanship and artistry that went into Some Things, one can forgive the error for omitting a track listing on this premier outing. (Most likely my editor forgot to send it along, but I digress.) I do encourage folks who are interested in artistic endeavors to sample this work. Yousaf paints with a musical palette, but don't be too surprised when you discover that he has more colors and shapes in his kit than you thought possible. This isn't for everyone, but then again, something of brilliance never is.

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