Arooj Aftab : Night Reign

Arooj Aftab Night Reign review

Western rock-centric acts have showcased their nocturnal affections for decades. They just prefer to amplify the spooky, the scary, the mystery. Sure, glowering post-punk and moody goth-rock remain powerful musical forces, but not everything about the late hours need focus on the spectral or maudlin. There’s more to the night than its most sinister implications.

Arooj Aftab has discussed her love for the night in interviews throughout her career, and she brings that reverence into her music in unsuspecting ways. Across the nine songs of Night Reign, she combines gorgeous chamber folk with Middle Eastern influences that highlight the quiet intimacy of the late hours of the day. While her earlier releases relied heavily on insular ambient moods, the overarching genius of this album, her latest for Verve, rests in the deft interplay between her voice and acoustic guitar. Singing in both Urdu (the language of her native Pakistan) and English, she possesses a sumptuous contralto that oozes authentic wonder while reveling in the freedom of the shadows.

Yet, this is no exercise in minimalism. The relaxed atmosphere resounds with vibrant instrumentation, as an array of unpitched percussion create a rich, polyphonic bed in nearly every track. From shakers, bells, and timpani to blocks, castanets, brushes, and more, Aftab and her backing band create a tremendous range of polyrhythmic techniques. She further develops such sounds through the use of dreamy piano, horn and harp textures that inject hefty amounts of melancholy and whimsy. 

Throughout Night Reign, Aftab delights in emotional expression, and the songs encourage listeners to embrace the depth, weight, and resonance of their feelings. For example, “Na Gul” overflows with a stark sensuality reminiscent of a lonely chanteuse pining over a lost love. On the other end of the spectrum, “Whiskey” directly call to those late-night drinking sessions with friends as you reminisce over bygone days. And “Bolo Na” (featuring the always incredible Moor Mother), pulses with a passionate political energy of compatriots planning their next disruptive action.

This remarkable musical accomplishment stretches across genres and borders with supple ease. Night Reign possesses a robust improvisational feel, courtesy of jazz, lounge, folk, and spoken word elements. Depending on the track, you can hear the influence of Joanna Newsom, Jamila Woods, Lhasa de Sela, and Joni Mitchell. However, it’s the immense talent of Arooj Aftab that provides the overarching bedrock of the project. Despite each song featuring different musical ideas to the point of stylistic experimentation, she has created a unified whole that captures the imagination and will likely have you longing for a cliche-free nocturnal pursuit of your own.

Label: Verve

Year: 2024

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Arooj Aftab Night Reign review

Arooj Aftab : Night Reign

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