On stage, Imaad Wasif is scrawny, spry and springy, writhing and wiggly, pogoing around and looking something to the effect of a snake with a pogo-stick tail. This restless and spastic presence, in perspective, makes him the perfect choice for a second guitar player in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Karen O may be the focal point, but Wasif has the energy to match, as he’s proven in his live show with Alaska!. Just as we rock journalists became privy to this information, however, Wasif counters with a brand new album of hushed, acoustic indie folk with nary a power chord or lick of feedback in sight.
It’s still the same Wasif on this record, only he’s eschewed the louder Alaska!-style sounds for a haunting, moody set more reminiscent of songs like “Nightmare X.” It’s tempting to name drop artists like Elliott Smith when discussing Wasif’s new self-titled full-length, but the truth of the matter is that they don’t sound much alike. Where Smith had an almost Beatlesque sense of melody and immediacy, Wasif is much less direct, sometimes playing rootsy, Neil Young-like ballads, sometimes stretching out notes and keeping everything as minimal as possible, despite the occasional backing guitar or piano.
The most telling line of Wasif’s new direction is on the opener “Spark,” in which Wasif laments “The dark’s all I’ve got/And it never let me down.” And again, on the outstanding “Out in the Black,” Wasif sings, “I never said that I could save you/From the dark heart.” Wasif doesn’t hide in darkness on this record, he revels in it. But it’s a bare kind of darkness, not one marked by gothic theatrics. Leave that to Nick Cave or Peter Murphy.
As wonderfully cleansing as that darkness can be, it’s still nice to hear Wasif speed up the tempo and jack up the volume a bit, as he does on the stomping “Coil,” which, come to think of it, outdoes the rest of the songs in sheer creepiness. Dropping misery for misanthropy, Wasif tells his harrowing tale: “I have murdered in the dawn/just to be so much closer/to you my love.” The graceful ballad “Without” follows “Coil” nicely, however, returning to a more earnest, yet still bummed, side of Wasif. I certainly can’t imagine Wasif attempting any sort of stage aerobics while performing these songs, but I suppose that’s what his other band(s) is for. Instead, he takes the listener to a space more personal, more intimate and much more bleak.
Damien Jurado – The Ghost of David
Hayden – The Closer I Get
Smog – Wild Love
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.