Here’s a little booster for the difficult days ahead. Lebanese multi-instrumentalist and puppeteer Yara Asmar once again ushers in those intimate, close-knit vibes we so need with her new release ‘synth waltzes and accordion laments’ on the irrepressible Hive Mind Records. It was last September when we were gifted the tiny gem of her ‘Home Recordings 2018 – 2021’ cassette, a soundtrack of detailed exquisite portraits from the Beirut streets around her. The tunes had a deceptive presence and this latest offering looks set to raise her profile further as a sound artist. It’s an album that once again breathes deep with electro-acoustic freshness, shaped through her distinctive blends of electronics, found sounds and an aged accordion.
Inspired during Asmar’s stint as artist in residence in the Black Forest and the extraordinary chance discovery of the German shop that shipped her Grandmother’s green Hohner to Lebanon in 1955, ‘synth waltzes and accordion laments’ tugs soft but insistently at the emotions. Here’s a commentary on time and connection, drawn from the notes of that very accordion, played and recorded by Asmar at home with her usual DIY aesthetic and dedication to the imaginary.
After the empty fairground melodics of the synth waltzing to die in the country opens this collection, that well-loved Hohner makes its entrance on objects lost in drawers (found again at the most inconvenient times). Voicing a slow-paced progression of stoic chords, with the yearning gravity of a Balkan ballad, the tone is set on remembering times well passed. From here Asmar delicately treats the sound, at first tweaking the top notes to waiver then gradually guiding the whole sequence through a swirl of echo and reverb. It’s a transition where you slide into the dreamscape without knowing you’ve shifted.
Similar subtle abstraction expands the fluttering momentum of folksy Jumana. The grand Hohner sighs while chime bowls and trinkets tinkle ceremonially before heading somewhere less certain. After a pause for rhythmic claps the chords take that minor key and swell with a deeper sorrow,. The track feels like an honest, homespun elegy. Personal memories also inspire the gently powerful from gardens in the city we keep alive. Along with others, Asmar has dedicated this new music to her grandfather and ‘his garden in the middle of the city, and in spite of it’ and this tune takes emotional energy directly from that relationship. Again the lamenting accordion is the foundation but a lonely human whistle, croons the leading ballad with raw poignancy.
The connectivity of themes and musical ideas of ‘synth waltzes and accordion laments’ signals the development of Asmar as a singular voice in the ambient/experimental arena. Her previous ‘Home Recordings’ album was packed with ideas and giddy variation but here there is more focus. Asmar repeats and builds on soundscapes with a confidence that they will enthral and enchant. Take the quizzical everything is wrapped in cling film, a mischievously layered drone sneakily sprinkled with found sounds and ephemera in all the right places. It’s a match for Christina Vantzou’s atmospheric detailing with the theramin weep of Asmar’s synth bringing some distant other-world real close. In contrast I liked it better when we lived on see-saw hill uses monotone harmonics to shape something more innocent and delicate, what sounds like a bowed vibraphone rocking in a slow-motion memory.
As a whole the album also unwinds with a dramatic flow that highlights Asmar’s theatrical sensibilities. When the time is right she knows when to shift the momentum. The lengthy, hypnotic three clementines on the counter of a blue-tiled sun-soaked kitchen shows Divachi-like finesse and patience in layering minimal layers of sound in pursuit of intriguing complexity. As mesmeric as a still-life painting, the early synth simplicity multiplies into a gorgeous wash of psychedelic slow music. On a different tack but in no way out of place, the urgent spoken word of Lebanese poet Majd Chidiac on are these your hands would you like them back seems pivotal. Here Asmar keeps the soundtrack supressed to a toy-like jingle and bell ringing resonance but pushes the narration out front. A commentary on their home-land, on conflict and on loss, Chidiac’s imagery of ‘soft hands, petrol hands, untouchable hands, ungrateful hands’ grabs at you powerfully.
By the time you reach the calm of the gliding synths on the final track come back later, you are mindful that ‘synth waltzes and accordion laments’ has travelled some distance and taken you with it. Asmar presents her story, her city, her family and her home through her music and somehow brings you to reflect on your own places…and that’s her kind of magic.
Get your copy of ‘synth waltzes and accordion laments’ by Yara Asmar from your local record store or direct from Hive Mind Records HERE