Con Calma, Mohammed Asraf’s second release of the year in his guise as Pie Are Squared, is well named. A calm sense of detachment and escapism pervades the serene and contemplative sounds of this album. It’s an album to lose oneself in, and in doing so, lose the anxiety and despondency that the so called “new normal” imposes on so many of us. It’s a comfort zone that I’m happy to escape to, and have been doing so on a regular basis since I first listened to it.
The album begins with Apricity, which has a sound I find difficult to describe, but which sounds like a beautiful guitar solo slowed down to a ridiculous extent. If you’ve ever listened to any super-slowed-down music on YouTube, you’ll know what I mean. It’s hard not to listen to, and feel everything slow down along with it, which makes it a perfect opening number. I can feel my breathing slow, my heartbeat slow. And like any guitar jam, it transports the listener. The waves of sound lull the listener into a cocoon of security.
The loops that seem to make up the following Dismano rise gently from the short silence left after Apricity ends. They build and crescendo, and to me it’s like the aural equivalence of watching a sunrise. In my mind, in fact, a specific sunrise – over Stonehenge, many years ago when the rocks were opened up for the night of the Summer Solstice. The sense of magic and majesty as the sun’s rays spread over the monoliths is reflected in this music. Given apricity is the warmth of the sun in winter, it always tickles me that it’s the following track which reminds me of the warmth of the sun – albeit in summer, not winter.
Flügezüge is the first track where the found sounds that I understand make up much of this album are more overt. According to the Bandcamp page, Mohammed gathered recordings on his mobile phone whilst travelling, which were later fed through various chains of effects. It also hints that Flügezüge was created from recordings during rail and air travel – and it’s easy to believe that, given the sounds one hears. It sounds to me, like the ambient noise that is all pervasive during air travel. Though, of course, the field recordings are often so manipulated on Con Calma that I have no idea if they are sounds from those travels, or sounds manipulated to sound like those travels. Either way, it makes little difference, as the sense of travelling is palpable. Not only travelling, but the sense of being cocooned, as one generally is using public transport. It’s not a claustrophobic sense, however, but rather one of security. This is the overwhelming feel of the album, too.
The following All We’ve Lost and Most of What We Missed is probably my favourite piece on the album, and is justifiably the centrepiece for me. I’m guessing it might be one of the oldest tracks on the album, as there is a video for this piece on the Pie Are Squared YouTube page that was uploaded in March last year. It’s an incredibly prescient piece, as it encapsulates the emotions and feelings of 2020 so well – and I was absolutely shocked when I realised it had not been written in response to the events (or lack thereof) of this year. Perhaps it was just waiting for the right setting, and in Con Calma it has definitely found that.
But no, further investigation (I admit that I read as little as possible when reviewing an album), it seems this was an album a year in creation, so who knows how new or old any of these tracks are. And does it matter? Honestly, no, as this music seems timeless and spaceless – just what you might expect, I guess, from an album created to be an escape from existence and the routines of normality (or the “new normality”, which has merely created new routines). Furthering the idea for me, of All We’ve Lost… as being perfectly sequenced in the middle of the album, is the following Heard From a Distance (another older track, as there is a YouTube video for it uploaded in March 2018) which re-introduces field recordings to the mix, in a way as effective as they were used in Flügezüge. Almost as if All We’ve Lost… was where we were escaping to, with the remainder of the album the slow and calm return to reality.
Last Trace of Home reminds me very much of the opening duo of Apricity and Dismano, but if the drone of the former was reminiscent of a super-slowed guitar, this is a super-slowed cello – rich and resonant, and gosh darn beautiful. And if the latter made me imagine a sunrise, then this has me seeing a sunset, in all its hazy serenity. That feeling is only strengthened with the final track – Away, World, Away. These two tracks are a grand finale, which fades out beautifully. Con Calma may have been begun well before the novel coronavirus changed our lives, but its release during these strange times gives it an increased relevance. This is an album I have turned to several times recently. If you’re looking for an escape, this one comes highly recommended.
01. Apricity (4:35)
02. Dismano (6:20)
03. Flügezüge (5:08)
04. All We’ve Lost And Most Of What We Missed (6:40)
05. Heard From a Distance (6:33)
06. Last Trace Of Home (5:32)
07. Away, World, Away (4:28)
Total Time – 37:16
Mohammed Ashraf – All Sounds, Instrumentation
Record Label: whitelabrecs.
Country of Origin: Egypt (via Italy)
Date of Release: 25th July 2020