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Thursday, March 7, 2024

ZÖJ - Fil O Fenjoon (Bleeemo Music, 2024)

By Sammy Stein

Fil O Fenjoon comes from ZÖJ, an experimental, cross-cultural duo based in Australia, comprising Gelareh Pour on Kamancheh, Qeychak Alto (both Iranian stringed instruments), and voice, and Brian O’Dwyer on drumkit. They have worked together on several projects since 2012, and as ZOJ since 2016.

Their music centres around the idea of being from more than one place and interculturalism. Pour is originally from Iran and has won international awards for her work. She has achieved academic success with her studies of Iranian female singers’ lives after migration and collaborated with many innovative musicians and organisations. O’Dwyer is Australian and explores sounds as connections, currently concentrating on the impact of listener and performer through reaction and response. He has been recording and producing music since the mid-late nineties, exploring across genres with a focus on cross-cultural and contemporary music.

ZOJ creates a unique and powerful sound that combines the traditional music of their respective cultures with contemporary experimental elements. Listening to the album is an experience and an adventure for the ears and mind.

Already achieving praise from many critics, Fil O Fenjoon reveals the exquisite combination of Pour’s virtuoso performance on the Kamancheh, combined with her dulcet, dynamically controlled vocals which add a sense of the unreal to tracks like ‘My Empty Boat’ on the album. The combination of O’Dwyer’s intuitive percussion over and behind the Kamancheh on tracks like ‘Hearts of Stone’ is compulsive listening. His booming bass resonances echo across his intricate rhythms maintained and flowing across the track while the strings rise and powerfully add melody before the vocals add glorious dynamism and energy.

The album is a revelation about how music from different cultures can achieve harmony by merging their differences and in doing so many similarities become clear. O’Dwyer can change the essence of a track through his drumming, at times placing a touch so light it is as a caress, and at others so deep and powerful, that it momentarily feels like an assault on the senses. But it is this that maintains the interest and the ever-flowing energy that imbues this album. That dynamism is reflected by the stringed instruments and voice equally eloquently controlled by Pour. Her delivery gives the sense she is at one with the music, her voice used as an instrument, filling the spaces between the sustained string, and driving drums. The words of the poems around which the lines are based comes across loud and clear through her powerful use of sound changes, sometimes drawing back and at others letting forth a release of force.

The ebb and flow of energy is powerful and creates a sense of connection between not only the musicians but the listener who cannot help but be drawn inexorably towards the heart of the creations.

There is no standout track on the album because the duo creates sounds that combine the traditional music of both cultures and yet introduce experimentalisms and new sounds redolent of the modern era of their recordings, and this is carried across the different aspects of the album. ‘Hearts of Stone’ is the track to which I returned repeatedly on the first listen, so mesmerising are the dynamics, control, and emotive insistencies of the music, but then I moved on to ‘The God of Rainbows’ and found different ways the music enveloped and absorbed the listener. O’Dwyer finds on this track, the perfect sweet spot to enter and then build the sound while the strings weave threads of sonic colour behind him. Then, ‘Hymn For Apollo’ builds a deeply textural foundation, under which individual strings are picked out to offer a contrast and then ‘Winter for Ghazal’ offers an almost classical take before diverging into more explorative sonic development with layered vocals and calls and response and finally, the dynamically playful, yet solid ‘ Study of A Bull’ closes the track with power and magnificence.

That this is just two musicians seems impossible, the dynamism and levels of sonic interaction are so well layered. Take, for example, ‘Study of A Bull’ where the string warps and whiffles over the intricate drums before chords are created and the power builds and builds.

The impact of this music is extraordinary – it is powerful and majestic yet tempered by a vulnerability in the vocals at times, and a beauty in some of the passages that take the breath of the listener away.

The sound is complex, yet accessible, tangled, yet clear, unfathomable yet understandable, difficult to describe yet completely, absolutely engaging.

Pour’s voice has power and can soothe or keen in emotive passages, the exhilarating power and drive of ‘Pictures’ with Fire’ contrasting with the beauty and emotion of ‘My Empty Boat.’ This is an album of contrasts and changes, colours and patterns. Above all, it is glorious music that reaches deep into the soul. It needs little analysis. It just is.


Anonymous said...

This sounds extraordinary, and a beautiful, evocative review.