Irfan Azam, alias Anomalous Leaf, is the kind of artist that you think about in terms of scale. There is the sheer size of his songs – the “Sojourner” mini-suite has a fifteen minute playing time – but also the size of the music’s scope and ambition on his latest album “Ellipsis”. The album gives you a sense of a landscape, but instead of just marching towards a vast horizon of sprawling sounds, it feels like the instrumentals are burrowing through layers of soil to discover the core of the earth, and the meaning of life itself.
The crescendos and climaxes of ambient rock are present, but just as often you will find yourself contemplating somber wisps of sound that ebb and flow between melody and dissonance. What may start like a whisper will grow and resonate as you dig your ears into it. The experience is not unlike taking a pause on a mountain hike and realizing just how many sounds there are in what seems like silence. You get the sense that Anomalous Leaf is searching for new paths to achieve his original goals.
For the most part, the songs feel segmented and self-contained, standalone compositions instead of pieces of an overall fabric. They return time again to distorted guitars that sometimes feel like echoes in a cave, other times like a crumbling landslide, while the drums and percussion are generally crystalline and precise. There’s a similar sense of longing and a beautiful darkness at work here, too. It feels like exploring in the dark and coming upon cluster of diamonds that help light your way.
The music has plenty of momentum without being ‘driving’ in the usual sense of the word—it can be meditative and meandering, and sometimes, as on “Phaedrus”, transitions in aqueous slow motion with sounds that sparkle like fizzing water. There are also upbeat moments, like “Ring Road” which at first feels amorphous and ambient before suddenly catching fire. When it does finally open up, the effect is stunning.
In an album full of eclectic stylistic ambition, perhaps no track encompasses the entire experience better than ‘“Sojourner”. The song, which is divided into 7 parts, feels like a breath of new life, shimmering with gorgeous piano notes and jangling guitar passages while pirouetting in a light, spacey atmosphere that is immersive but not oppressive.
It’s difficult when listening to “Ellipsis” not to think of images that could go with these songs. Instead of making instrumental music for silly moments in sports events, Anomalous Leaf delivers soundscapes you’ll remember a decade later, because you have locked the music onto an image in your mind, stumbling first kisses while waking from a comforting dream, that sad moment when you first hear a friend has died, or maybe walks alone at night, watching the constellations and pondering the meaning of it all. These songs feel personal no matter how you interpret them. They tug at important moments and allude to others.
“Ellipsis” is a quietly masterful and emotionally rich work. It contains a potpourri of sounds that ultimately will accompany you while watching from a distance, but paying more attention to the person next to you, than those dark clouds rising overhead.
This is the eighth album released by North Carolina-based musical studio artist Irfan Azam, alias Anomalous Leaf, and also features the now deceased Matt Oberst, who, in his heart-wrenching last studio performance (recorded in the late of March 2016), lent his beautifully dissonant guitar phrasings to Sojourner (parts V-VII) and a dash of finesse on an early version of Ring Road (catch the bonus track). Matt passed away soon after the time of these recordings.
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