Rafiq Bhatia - Breaking English
Art can be challenging. Art should be challenging. When music isn't spoonfed to you in compact melodies, over-compressed choruses, and predictable structure, it can be coined a challenging listen. Breaking English is robust, ambitious, provocative and uniformly teeming with emotion in all avenues of its expression. It's one part avant-garde jazz, one part experimental electronica and full of soul. The human spectrum of emotion is on full display as Bhatia "sets out to challenge existing musical vocabulary with a language of its own." It's not always accessible, but being human isn't easy, and the album accomplishes a creation of the multi-layered good and bad of life as we know it.
Stepping out on his own after being one-third of Son Lux, Bhatia pushes and squeezes human qualities and showcases them in his music. Starting off the album, "Olduvai I - Minarets" creates tension through a mechanical set of ambient noises. It's the signal of something much larger to come, like the human fossils found at Olduvai from thousands of years before. "Hoods Up" was the first single from the album, the first song Bhatia started working on and one of the last to finish. Created in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing, Bhatia said: "I think the music carries some of the struggle of its creation with it." Hiccuping drums organically push scraping and scratching strings forward, until Bhatia unleashes his precise and powerful guitar for the first time. There is contrast all over the song and the previously mentioned tension is complete with an intimate and serene depth.
Before we arrive at the title track of the album, "The Overview Effect" stretches, throbs, and wails. Expressing the view of Earth from outer space, it is fragile and indescribable. The bass falls up and down the fretboard before the lead synth screams at you. And it really screams. It is tense, intense and overwhelming. Now that he has your attention, it's time for "Breaking English."
The title track is sonically, compositionally, emotionally and artistically perfect. It could make you want to cry from sadness on one listen, and cry from joy the next. A soulful, introspective and harmonious six minutes of pure bliss. Revolving around a seductive clean guitar lick and a free drum rhythm, the song is caressed by a gospel choir that elevates it to a new level. Stunning and one of the best songs of the year, "Breaking English" will devour your attention and cure any stress that is eating away at your brain. Unfortunately, it so significantly overshadows the other offerings from the album.
"Perihelion" is comprised of two-movements and uses intricate production to create a strained and anxious aesthetic. While the first movement emphasizes violence and perhaps death, the second gives us a glimmer of hope with its beautiful guitar melodies and subtle shimmering synth. The listen is never comfortable, however, as the riff teases an eerie, evil and uncertain note from time to time before the drums explode in a flooding release of musical exaltation.
Breaking English is challenging, but it's also freeing. Kudos to ANTI- Records for continuing to foster talented musicians pushing the limits of musical exploration. The imperfect moments are there for a reason and they won't be smoothed out, they will be emphasized. The juxtapositions all over the album create a tension that makes the relief all the more impactful. Bhatia is a naturally talented musician who set out to push himself to explore a whole new side of his ability and achieved it. "Breaking English" might take you a few listens to wrap your head around, but with each new listen you'll discover a new dimension of depth.