kevinreview

Zirafa

Turnstyles

Kevin Davis

Yesterday, I went into my humble workplace and asked one of
my contemporaries, "Dude, have you ever heard of this band
Zirafa?" He told me promptly that he had not, to which I
responded, "Well, good, because I listened to their CD
today and I just wanted to tell you that they fucking
suck!"

This was technique #113 in "Operation Find Something Bad to
Say About the New Zirafa CD," a program that's been
underway for the past three weeks as a concerted effort to
balance out what is going to be gushing review for Zirafa's
"Turnstyles" album with some good old fashioned
rock-journalist elitist cynicism. I hoped that by telling
enough people that these Zirafa guys (whoever the hell they
are!) were a horrendously awful act, perhaps I too might
come to believe my own lie, thus allowing for this review
to not come off sounding like a promo letter that was
written by the band members themselves.

It didn't work; in fact, none of my plans worked. I sat in
my room in the dark, listening analytically for a minor
technical flaw that I could expose for all it's worth; I
put it on my car's CD player during a traffic jam in an ice
storm, hoping that the nitpicky criticisms that came out of
my road rage might translate into my finding some kind of
shortcoming in the music; I even spent an entire three
hours on pitchforkmedia.com, in the event that reading
obscure criticisms of even more obscure Radiohead B-sides
might bring out the more observant musical listener in me.
Here's what I learned from these adventures: I learned that

"Turnstyles" is technically perfect, that "Mr. Fisher"
sounds really cool when freezing rain is beating down on
your windshield in the dark, and that pitchforkmedia.com
wouldn't dare remotely negative about anything by
Radiohead, *especially* their obscure B-sides. So suck it
up, folks, because this review is going to be another one
of them shameless whorings of another under-the-radar indie
group that sounds like it was written by a friend of the
band (which it is) who thinks it's cool to praise
under-the-radar indie groups because he thinks it gives him
cred (which I do).

Zirafa's "Turnstyles" is the bastard kid of Farsheed
Hamidi-Toosi and ProTools. It's an erratic and
unpredictable (like any self-respecting bastard kid would
be) collage of ambient noise, melody, rhythm, and word that
when listened to in full serves as the aural equivalent to
looking at series of sequential yet completely unrelated
still photographs. It's an album whose strength lies in
using what you hear to alter what you see. One could say
it's a shapeshifter, a chameleon, but my best instincts
tell me that such a description would be an
oversimplification; where good albums have the ability to
adapt themselves to blend into multiple environments, great
music has the ability to alter the world around it while it
itself remains constant. It's akin to a pair of 3D glasses
- everything you see through them looks different than it
normally would, but they're all related in that they're
being seen now in the same tint. If that doesn't make
sense, don't worry - the best part of this album is peeling
back its layers and discovering for yourself just what the
hell is going on.

Perhaps some clarification is in order. "Turnstyles" is not
"Brian Eno's Music for Airports Volume 2," which is to say
it's not an obnoxious mess of blips and clanks and thuds
with no musical order whatsoever. It's quite the contrary;
Mr. Toosi's strength as a composer far outweighs even his
talent as a producer, and the real power of this album is
that these tracks all stand tall and mighty as pieces of
actual music, certainly benefiting from their ambient
production but not even remotely dependent on it. The songs
on the album range from the classical piano wizardry of the
downright gorgeous "Waves" to the dreamy funk of "Dark as
the Night," the latter of which was hands down the single
best track of 2004, indie or otherwise.

Lyrics show up occasionally, but Hamidi-Toosi's voice
serves less as a vehicle for delivering words and more as
just another instrument in his already impressive arsenal.
"Dark as the Night" and "Sideways" both boast some nice
memorable refrains, but these refrains are no more or less
hummable than the catchy instrumental passages of
"Glasscutter" and "Mr. Fisher." In fact, "Turnstyles" is
probably the first primarily instrumental album I've owned
where I find the instrumentals getting stuck in my head
more than the songs with words (since John Coltrane's "My
Favorite Things" was originally from the Sound of effing
Music and has lyrics in its initial composition, it doesn't
count), subsequently causing me to walk around work and
irritate the pants off of my coworkers by singing
"Da-da-dum DUM, da-DEE DEE da-da-da-da" (that's
"Glasscutter") and
"Da-da-da-DAH-da-da-dum-de-DA-da-DA-da-da-dadadada" (that's
"Mr. Fisher").

I'm not going to trivialize the originality of this work
with something as horrid as the "x-artist-meets-y-artist"
comparison, but I will say that the blending of musical
genres on this recording are unlike any I've ever heard
before. Classical, hip-hop, jazz, funk, folk, alternative,
ambient - all these styles are present here in their most
traditional styles blended with one another to perfection.
Is this a new idea? No. Has the "blending of musical
genres" been responsible for such musical catastrophes as
Limp Bizkit and Big & Rich? Unfortunately, yes. But this
album is no such train wreck. True, it echoes with the best
elements of a few hundred years of musical history, but its
real heart is what Farsheed Hamidi-Toosi brings to the
table - all these different styles coming from the
fingertips of the same guy makes it sound like these styles
of music were construed to be played in synchronicity from
the get-go.

So, it's on that note that I close the file on "Operation
Find Something Bad to Say About the New Zirafa CD." It was
an interesting journey, but ultimately all those attempts
to unveil weaknesses only further served to emphasize the
album's strengths, and now I can finally put down the
magnifying glass and just enjoy this damned thing.
Hopefully I can remember how....

....cue "Glasscutter".....

....oh yeah, that's right.