Disturbing the Air

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Since 2003’s Enantiodromia, Azita has challenged her listeners' expectations, a tradition she continues with Disturbing the Air. Turning away from the relatively light-hearted, jazzy sound she explored after her time with the Scissor Girls and Bride of No No, she presents pieces that are half torch songs and half laments -- or both at the same time, as on “Then Our Romance,” which sets words describing the beginning of an affair to music that sounds like the end of it. Azita's playing and singing are so clear and stark they sound like they were recorded in crisp winter air, and this simplicity suggests these could be ancient songs of love and mourning translated and performed in English for the first time. Disturbing the Air's songwriting seems to well from a deep need; songs such as the meditation on loss, “Parrots,” have a directness that makes lyrics like “sweep these ashes from my soul /I need my rest/you had to cut me down when you knew I was the one you loved best” profound instead of pretentious. Along with her usual rich alto, Azita sings in a chilly, piping soprano that feels like it’s been forced from her, adding to Disturbing the Air's unearthly quality on the three-part title track and “Should I Be?,” her ghostly voice a perfect match for her ruminations on distance, life, and death. Despite the album’s somber subject matter, there’s a serenity to many of these songs that contradicts conventional feelings about loss. Azita's singing feels intimate without being insular, almost as if these were overheard musings, and there’s a consistency to the rhythms and dynamics that gives a strangely timeless and inevitable feel. Indeed, many of these songs are just as accessible as her previous Drag City work, with the notable exception of the difficult (and fascinating) “Stars or Fish,” which traces “the sound of love’s ebb and flow” with alternately chiming and rippling sections. Azita allows reprieves from the album’s emotional intensity on the flirtatious “Say You’re the Finest” and “Keep Hymn,” which has a beautiful melody that travels from longing to hope. This album isn’t always easy to listen to, but its remarkable clarity disturbs the air in a painful, and beautiful, way.

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