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Sun City Girl Alan “Alvarius B” Bishop has spent the last couple of years putting together an Egyptian psych-folk troupe The Invisible Hands and composing this debut album, available over here in an English-language edition as well as an Arabic version which is only available in the Middle East and a forthcoming limited double LP which collects both versions together.
It’s superb stuff, slick and deftly arranged and much poppier than you’d expect - dusky and mystical free-folk weirdness mixed with soothing fingerpicked melodies and Bishop’s rich, boomy voice, it takes a kind of sideways approach to psychedelia which reminds me of Angels of Light and David Lynch and even Mark Lanegan in places. It’s very slick, hi-fi and accessible for a SCG-related project - I was expecting a bit of a challenge but in places, like ‘Black Weather Shoes’ it’s just straightforward Americana songwriting which wouldn’t seem out of place coming from Neil Young or poor Jason Molina, and the following track ‘Soma’ recalls the more pure-pop moments of Guided By Voices, although tempered towards the end by what sounds like mounting rebab drones. What I’m trying to say is that at its heart, this is unabashed pop songwriting with, for a Bishop, only the subtlest sinister edge.
It’s this mixture of American and Arabic influences which makes this album fascinating, though, and these straightforward moments serve as a foil to the less familiar Eastern aspects to the music. I suppose the point is to make something which sounds as invitingly exotic in north Africa and the Middle East as it does in the west - I’d certainly be interested to know how the Arabic version is received over there!
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