Ilyas Ahmed does business with the excellent MIE once again regarding his new LP Closer to Stranger. A distinctive guitarist associated with American primitive as well as ‘New Weird America’ when it prevailed in the 2000s, this new offering finds Ahmed’s sound a tad cleaner and his style a little closer to Americana and indie. Hearing his eminently expressive voice and instrumentation under these conditions is all sorts of fab.
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Lovely Ilyas Ahmed should never stop making music. Not ever. His place is sealed in my heart as the only maker of loud, hazy folk ruminations I have time to care about. Hereby nicknamed by me as Loud Grouper, he’s a wonderful alternative to the decaf drone of Liz Harris (with whom he collaborated as Visitor many years back) in those hours of need where you want something meditative but waking. His last record, ‘I Am All Your Own’, saw his loudly mic’d strums and picks meet proper songs and serene melodies -- on the gorgeous ‘Closer to Stranger’, he marries that newfound pop infatuation with some of his older experimental melodramas.
Those tensions couple up here, Ahmed moving from song to song without knowing whether the path is safe or less travelled. He opens on a gorgeous and lush slow strum before moving into “False Front”, whose rhythmic fret movements lurk around fear. It moves, with little bother, into one of the loveliest songs he’s ever made, a glitzy riff giving way to jangly strumming patterns that may as well be Real Estate. “Zero for Below” combines the lowly, melancholic undercurrent with stove-warmed melodies, a clarinet crooning overtop the song’s mix of wandering riffs and tethering strums. For an artist who’s constantly dug up distinctive landscapes in his music, he’s created some of his most vividly pastoral music on these half-songs.
At points we hear him bare, and isn’t that something: he is incredibly close to us on “Cancel to Reveal”, but for some choice twang affectations and the usual whispers of doubt. On tracks like this he offers some of his most straightforward, uninterrupted picking, showing us what he can do without facade. Fans of Benoit Pioulard will be overjoyed hearing this one -- it’s song after song of implication and inference, the kind of music that lets the listener build their relationship through the fog. Beautiful as ever from Ilyas Ahmed.
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- Closer to Stranger by Ilyas Ahmed
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