ISON by Sevdaliza (2017)

Iranian-born Sevda Alizadeh moved with her family to the Netherlands at the age of five. Showing great promise as a basketball player in her teens, she was good enough to represent the Dutch national team. However, instead of a career shooting hoops her destiny lay in the world of music. After a few years mastering Ableton and teaching herself how to sing, Sevdaliza hooked-up with Rotterdam-based producer Mucky and began to develop her own particular sound.

Acclaimed for a series of eye-catching music videos which she began releasing in 2014, Sevdaliza also has two well received EP’s to her name, The Suspended Kid and Children of Silk, both issued via her own Twisted Elegance label in 2015. And earlier this year she also gained attention with her first Persian-language song ‘Bebin’, released in protest against President Trump’s executive order which sought to ban the citizens of seven Muslims countries from entering the United States.

Although a full-length debut was anticipated at some point this year, the surprise release of ISON via her YouTube channel ahead of its now scheduled physical release at the end of July appears to have caught all but a handful of more experimentally-inclined publications off guard. Named after a sungrazing comet, its release was accompanied by slow-moving visuals directed by Hirad Sab and based around the work of sculptor Sarah Sitkin (which also grace the album’s cover).

The music Sevdaliza creates has repeatedly been likened to ‘alternative R&B’ artists such as FKA Twigs and Kelela, and while not entirely unfair, such comparisons only tell part of the story. There’s certainly no shortage of industrial-flavoured electronics to be found on ISON, however, these are also combined with trip hop beats, orchestral arrangements, subtle keys, stunningly agile vocals and deeply reflective lyrics, all of which are woven together into a rich and detailed tapestry.

While similarities with the work of FKA Twigs and Kelela can be found on the likes of ‘Hero’ and ‘Human’, it’s the influence of Portishead which looms largest over the album. Five of the opening seven tracks have 1994’s Dummy baked into their core, not only via their use of trip hop beats but also through Sevdaliza’s emotive and sometimes haunting vocals. The brilliant back-to-back pairing of ‘Hubris’ and ‘Amandine Insensible’ are perhaps the finest examples of this, with’Libertine’ and ‘Scarlette’ also being essential.

On repeated listens the influence of Björk also begins to come to the surface, with the orchestral arrangements of Mihai Puscoui giving the album a subtle hint of 1997’s Homogenic, which can be heard most clearly. Elsewhere, the jazzy ‘Replaceable’ continues to widen the range of sounds heard on ISON, as does the emotive seven-minute piano-led closer ‘Angel’. Containing 16-tracks and clocking in at over an hour, ISON is best consumed in one sitting. For her debut, Sevdaliza has crafted her own mini-world and the deeper you immerse yourself in it the greater the rewards are likely to be.

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