photo credit: Borna Jafari
“The concept behind the album, in essence, is about how we develop multidimensional selves, a series of personas if you will, that enable us to navigate in a multidimensional universe and how we learn to move between them very fluidly,” explains internationally beloved singer-songwriter/producer Azam Ali about her new album Phantoms (Terrestrial Lane Productions; release date September 13, 2019). “Over time, these personas become like ghosts that live within us… like phantoms.”
Like the concept behind the album, Azam herself embodies this amalgamate nature. A singer, songwriter, producer, and sound sculptor, this transcontinental sonic architect crafts darkly alluring songs built around electronic textures and rhythms.
Recalling the majestic tapestries of 90s-era 4AD Records (Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins) but with modern flourishes woven into its threads, Azam weaves electronic songs that are timeless in nature but retro-futuristic in construction.
From the pulsating opening track and first single “Hope,” dashes of electronic color (a la Massive Attack and Portishead) envelop Azam’s velvety vocals. “’Hope’ is a poignant reflection on the grim social/political state in the world in which we are witnessing a global resurgence of nationalism and extremism,” she explains. “In essence, it is a song about the loss of hope.”
The aural gyrations of “The Twilight Sheds” hearkens midnight dance floors at long-gone clubs like Limelight, The Bank, Club Scream, while “Ode To Melancholy” imbues a sense of longing and sadness that is hard to shake.
The title track “Phantoms” is an expansive and earthy downtempo contemplation, brimming with hesitant industrial percussion. “I am particularly proud of the way the production turned out on this song,” Azam says. “I love the way the grimy industrial textures, dirty ambience and beat are juxtaposed against beautiful gloomy synths and ethereal vocals. There is this perfect balance between the masculine edge I was going for and feminine etherealness.”
One of the album’s standout tracks is Azam’s wildly reimagined version of the Cocteau Twins’ “Shallow Then Halo,” which is both spectral and soulful and almost totally reinvents the composition while remaining faithful to the spirit of original’s gothic core.
Her first album sung completely in English, the multicultural artist (born in Tehran, lived in India till she was four, and then came to America in 1985 after the Iranian revolution of 1979) studied music from a global perspective, soaking up the sounds and traditions from the Middle East, India, U.S., and Eastern Europe, among many other regions.
“I have sung many songs in English over the years, but this is the first album I have sung entirely in English,” she explains. “I waited this long to do an entirely English album because I wanted to be sure that I was doing it for the right artistic reasons, and that the production would be on a par with those of my musical idols who have inspired me.”
Azam’s career began in the chart-topping and ground-breaking international world electronic/ acoustic group Niyaz. As a solo artist, Azam has received two Canadian JUNO Award nominations and one HMMA (Hollywood Music in Media Award) for her bold artistry.
Her music has infiltrated mediums aside from music alone. She has collaborated either in-studio or on stage with Serj Tankian of System of a Down, Peter Murphy of Bauhaus, The Crystal Method, Mickey Hart, among many others. She’s contributed to film and television soundtracks, working with some of Hollywood’s most renowned composers. Some select film titles in her resume include Thor-The Dark World, Matrix- Revolutions, 300, The Fight Club, Dawn of the Dead, True Blood, Alias, The Agency, and Prison Break.
She is also a well-known musical force in the videogame world. A cross section of titles she’s contributed to include Uncharted 3, Call of Duty, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, and Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow for which she won “Best Original Song” at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards in 2007.
As she launches the next step in her storied career with Phantoms, Azam Ali’s creative worlds are beginning to intersect. “Phantoms seemed like an appropriate title because as the album began to take shape, I realized that I was unconsciously reaching back into so much of the music from the 80s and 90s that had inspired my own musical journey and influenced my personal aesthetic,” she explains. “It may have been because it was during that period of my youth that I first became infatuated with technology and its immense power as both a destructive and creative tool.
“Before Phantoms, I’ve shared a lot of intimate emotions, but it’s been a long time since I have been this vulnerable. It’s truly liberating.”
Phantoms will be released on September 13, 2019 via Terrestrial Lane Productions. It was composed, recorded and produced by Azam Ali and mixed by Grammy-nominated engineer Michael Patterson (Beck, Notorious B.I.G., Atticus Ross, NIN, The Social Network soundtrack).