The Invisible Hands is the debut album from a new international band of the same name fronted by Alvarius B. (Alan Bishop, formerly of the Sun City Girls). Interestingly, the name is a translation from its Arabic origins: El Ayadi El Khafeyya. Bishop is the lead vocalist and writes lyrics in English. He also plays acoustic guitar, bass, piano, organ, and bells. His bandmates are Cherif El Masri on guitars, bass, and keyboards and singer Aya Hemeda (both former members of popular Egyptian group Eskenderella), drummer Magued Nagati, and Mohammed Medhad on violin and viola. Several session players join the proceedings as well, including oudist/guitarist Sam Shalabi. The set was recorded in Cairo twice: once in English, once in Arabic. Bishop writes the lyrics and sings in English, but the music is a hybrid of adventurous, accessible vanguard rock, Arabic pop, and international folk sounds. "Hitman Boy" walks the knife edge between whomping skronk rock -- due to the intensity of El Masri's guitar work -- and noir-ish subterranean Hammond B-3 blues. This is the kind of mutant rock & roll that would have delighted Frank Zappa. The interplay between acoustic guitar and oud on "Dark Hall" creates an elegant backdrop for a strange exercise in paranoid, gothic folk, though B.'s delivery possesses a wry sense of humor throughout -- it's disturbing and fun. The album's hinge piece is the dryly hilarious "Black Weather Shoes," with stinging electric guitar work and a sense of drama that gathers in intensity -- revealing these shoes as a metaphor for a persona. "Soma" commences as acoustic punk with girl group harmony accents before transforming itself into something wholly other, with hypnotic, graceful strings and piano. "My Skull" is knotty and funky vanguard pop with Middle Eastern overtones, where "Black Blood" is positively nightmarish twisted singer/songwriter fare with elegant viola and drum kit work. The album closes with the psychedelic "Death Zoo," sung by B. in English, with effects-laden layered French vocal translations by guest Hana Al Bayaty. Most remarkable throughout The Invisible Hands is how seductive and catchy this music is. Listen for five minutes and you're hooked, taken along for the entire ride. This is music whose ties to more formalist rock and pop conventions (in both occidental and oriental traditions) are undeniable, yet the sum total is more mercurial, erasing boundaries rather than blending them. The end result is a beguiling experience that will appeal to fans of indie rock as well as to those who appreciate more experimental approaches to music-making.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek