…Although the album is being heard through my iPod I do have the hard copy with me and the album’s artwork is a black and white sketch of what looks like an exotic flower or maybe a psychedelic butterfly against a pristine white backdrop. It’s bold and eye-catching and does the wonderful music between the sleeves superb justice (artwork by www.aka-media.com and www.siscottstudio.com).
As the first track climbs into life with a nice Ravi Shankar-style intro (and I would say Aziz is a contemporary Shankar) I peruse the liner notes which states that “This album has been a work in progress since 2000. It is the result of the evolution of the band since the early days with Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke (former The Smiths) to the youthful injection of Kieron and Louise to the final line-up of myself [Aziz] and Dal [Dalbir Singh Rattan]. Although you might know some of the music, the recordings here have come about through the growth of the music through touring worldwide in countries rarely visited by musicians outside, gig after gig the songs transformed into what you hear now, in my eyes, something truly special.” ~ Aziz Ibrahim.
The first track, the cleverly-titled ‘Zen and Now’, starts off mellow and slowly climbs into majesty, going wonderfully bonkers at one point, complete with spacey sound effects, it reminds me that before I had seen Aziz live for the first time, others I know who had already seen him were telling me, “Chris, you’re gonna’ shit when you hear Aziz, he’s right up your street, you’re gonna’ have a psychedelic freak-out!” And despite all that hype when Aziz walked on stage and strapped on that strange, outlandish guitar (if the album’s credits are anything to go by it is a Fretless Glissentar), the hyperbole was not exaggerated, he still hit me like a freight train loaded with bricks! And it’s still happening now, with the music on the album, and it is taking me back to my ‘psychedelic freak-out’ when Aziz wrapped me in his music and sent me spinning through the stars and sitars live at WUTW! I’ve never quite had a musical live experience like the one I had that night in West Kilbride, and I’ve been to some pretty amazing gigs in variously enhanced states of minds, but with Aziz’s music no drugs are required, the sound is an auditory hallucination in itself, the landscapes that it will construct before your eyes will have you seeing stripes and paisley patterns whether you’re intoxicated or stone-cold sober! That night turned our musical tastes to the left of the dial, me and all my friends who attended! On the album, the rising build-up, fantastically scatty vocals and incredible kick-in of ‘Zen and Now’ will take you places with a great sense of stupefaction, from the very first chords you can sense the music’s power tingling up from your belly to your heart via the ears. I’m somewhat of an expert in most the music of the Western Hemisphere of this small mostly harmless blue and green planet, but that didn’t prepare me for the psychedelically stunning Eastern vibes that is offered up by Aziz and Dal’s playing here! In fact, even if I was familiar with this genre, I daresay I still wouldn’t be prepared for it; this particular slice of the genre’s music has an edge, as if Columbus was wrong and we’re driving straight over it! The song’s mood has changed again, we’ve gone all introspective, and as I sit on this rickety train from Edinburgh to Newcastle, I can’t help but gaze out of the double-plex window, with what I can only imagine to the floppy-haired, Economist-reading, mature student opposite me, is a glassy-eyed far-way expression on my face, lost in bewilderment of the music…
The first song is over, and already I feel like I’ve been on a journey (metaphorical, spiritual journey that is, not the train!) and I realise the track was really a sort of introduction to the album, preparing your mind, the way you would prepare someone’s mind before giving them peyote, exactly like that in fact! But not just your usual kind of intro track, there are no track-fillers on this album, all killer as they say! Nine minutes into the trip and I’m raring to go! Bring it on!!
There is a misnomer of the track listing here, the album states that the first track is ‘I Fought The Law’ but that is in fact the second track, but no matter; ‘I Fought The Law’ has long been a favourite song of mine, from the original Bobby Fuller Four song, to the Clash’s famous version of it and the Dead Kennedy’s cover too, and now I can rank Aziz’s version in there as a favourite. Barely recognisable as the original song presenting a whole new and unique twist, very driving and insistent, and then the familiar lyrics backed by this crazily exceptional and divine Eastern musical slant, both Bobby Fuller and Joe Strummer would be proud of this version!
‘Middle Road’ has an interestingly weird beginning and strange-sounding vocals, the Eastern influence saturates this track, it’s dripping with marvellous golden incandescence, but at the same time the quirky Manchurian influence can be heard too, the whole record is a delicious goulash of both cultures creating a very rare and special sound in the songs, like if you imagine the Happy Mondays were from Pakistan, something like that, although the Mondays are probably a bad example as Aziz and Dal have more skill in their little fingers than the Mondays had in their whole group, brilliant though they were. As darkness settles on the English countryside that flashes by out the window I seem to be having some sort of religious catharsis to the music (and trust me, as an antitheist, I don’t say that lightly), I can only blame the amazing music that is pouring through the headphones into my brain.
As ‘Kills Me’ starts up, I’m starting to become very familiar and extremely fond of the Asian sound, and intend to go and discover some more similar artists, though I suspect Aziz’s sound might be quite unique, what with its diversely contrasting influences, Eastern Britain meets Eastern World, every track is so surprising, you honestly don’t know what direction you’re going to be heading off in next and it’s always totally unexpected! Despite my musical knowledge I couldn’t even begin to describe what genre this song fits into, but Aziz describes it as Asian blues and that will do nicely for me too. This song is catchy as hell and with some sincere heartfelt emotion pouring through it too. It’s the kind of song that will impregnate itself in your mind and stay there til’ further notice, psychologists call this an ‘ear-worm’ I call it the mark of a truly masterful musician. In terms of ‘Rusholme Rock’ Aziz is everything a post-Beatles George Harrison wished that he was. Sorry George.
‘Morassi’, not Morrisey, is the next track and the brilliance is never-ending. The music on the record is almost as spine-tingling as the live performance was, it is such an extraordinary album! Any like-minded people out there (i.e open-minded musos) should get this album, there is no disappointment. I’m not a particularly spiritual man (unless you’re talking about Wild Turkey!) but I’ve never been so ‘spiritually’ effected by an album as this! Whether you’re Asian, Manc, a fan of the ‘Madchester’ scene, a follower of Eastern-flavoured music, a psychedelic music admirer, or just a music-lover of all genres, I can gauran-damn-fucking-tee you will love ‘Rusholme Rock’! And if you’re not any of the above I suggest this album is a great place to start. Open your mind, relax, and float downstream…
Now I struggle to pick a favourite track from this record as I love them all and I think it works well as a concept album (Eastern music’s answer to Darkside of the Moon perhaps, and anybody who knows me and who knows who my favourite band are, will know how bold a statement that was, and it’s true), but all my friends who bought the album seem to list this next track as their fave’, ‘My Star’, and I can see why, it’s a track that exposes Aziz as an ex-Stone Roses member, with the magnificently Manchurian vocals ‘My Star’ is an irresistible ditty that further cements the marriage of English and Asian styles, and Dal is a Herculean percussionist, an absolute phenomenon on the tablas! Juxtaposed between Manc and Eastern styles this album is a hit, and should by rights be a best-seller.
The final track ‘Heaven’s Rain’ is like an Eastern ‘Riders on the Storm’ if Jim Morrison was born in Pakistan he would have wrote something like this album, just like a Doors’ album the whole masterpiece is an enlightening experience that opens the doors of perception. Buy this album if you’re a fan of The Doors, the Stone Roses, Oasis, Paul Weller, George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, Manchester, Eastern music, diverse tunesmithery, or even just looking to broaden your horizons, you should get this album, it deserves incredible success, and I’m being completely objective here, this album has touched me and I want it to touch others too.
To see Aziz live catch him at Wake Up The Sun’s next event Free As You Are, I strongly recommend that you do, and tickets will be sold out very quick so make haste. I’ve seen Aziz live twice now and I just want to see him live every night! But in the meantime I’ll just listen to ‘Rusholme Rock’ everyday!
Seeya’ in the pit!