Saturday, July 21, 2007

Album Review: "This Is Who I Am" - Salem Al Fakir

It's always a joy to come across an artist you've never heard of and then realise that you've been missing out on some of the most joyous, uplifting, soulful music in years. That's what happened to me last week, when I discovered the uniquely talented young Swedish singer and multi-instrumentalist Salem Al Fakir.

"This Is Who I Am", his solo debut album, was released in Sweden at the beginning of 2007 and has been a critical and commercial success. It's a very strange album, a little overindulgent in places as there are perhaps too many unnecessary short instrumental interludes. Perhaps a bit of restraint could have been shown and some of them could have been dropped from the final track listing. But that's just IMHO as I'm not a fan of instrumentals - but there's no denying that he's a musically talented genius as he played almost every musical instrument on the album himself.

That aside, what's left is a piece of warm, adorable, musical magic.

Begin - the album kicks off with one of those instrumentals, all doodling synths which are reminiscent of a 70s TV science show theme!

This Is Who I Am - Salem is clearly influenced by a lot of 70s acts like the brilliant Steely Dan, and the title track is an ode to his individuality. Very smooth and nice. The video is bizarre and quite funny as Salem gets the dressing-up box out.

Tell Me - Aaah. One of my real favourites here. Deeply soulful but like many of the tracks, blessed with startling simplicity and enjoyment. His girl may have left him, but in spite of the sentiment ("Why did the sun stop shining/why did the fire stop burning") it's a very uplifting and joyful number, and he is one heck of a piano player.

Two Long Distance To Great Thoughts - You think you've sussed him out and then he brings out a medieval folk-meets-Irish-jig instrumental which would not sound out of place on a Jethro Tull album....!

Dream Girl - Starts off as a jazzy piano ballad and builds into a majestic, anthemic tune. Listen out for the headbanging piano hookline (01:04). His vocals have been criticised in some quarters but I love his voice: it's sweet, distinctive and goes well with the music he makes. Builds to a stunning finale ("I can't go on like this/I wish that you were mine once again").

It's Only You - Slowing down the pace, a gentle stroll in Elliott Smith territory, and that's never a bad thing. This is actually a simple and touching little song which is totally from the heart. I always imagine he's singing it to me....

Jussi - Short, experimental and classical, but a bit unnecessary.

Devil Look - Good funk workout driven by a cool guitar line and smooth vocals. Bonkers keyboard solo at the end, very prog rock, that last minute could have been cut off.

Count Me Out - Utterly gorgeous song, beautifully arranged. His vocals are so sweet. "Just let it go/you don't need me anymore/find someone else to bother". The boy clearly needs consoling fast, and this blogger would be very happy to offer a shoulder to cry on....:-))))!! Fantastic orchestral ending as well.

It's True - Another simple, uplifting piano driven song. The simplicity and innocence in his voice is rather lovely. Repetitive, yes, but it will eat into your brain. Also check out the song's reinvention by Axwell & Ingrosso. "It's true/life will smile for you". And this song will make you smile.

Magic Night/Baroon - Two more instrumentals which I'd have left off, although I have to say that "Magic Night" istarts off as if it should be the theme to "Phoenix Nights" and then turns into the most bonkers psychedelic thing ever. With each track, this album is becoming more and more unpredictable.

Hymn - Sweet and beautiful lullaby which almost made me cry on first hearing. Short.

Damien and Bob - Yet again he hits you with another musical style, in this case a bit Nirvana-ish. This is one of my least favourite songs on the album and it's (thankfully) short.

Good Song - Currently battling it out with "Dream Girl" to be my favourite song on the album. Recalling Steely Dan, Billy Joel and Jamie Cullum in places, lyrically uplifting. When he performs this live he can't stop smiling, and I can't stop smiling when I hear it either. Anthemic singalong towards the end. Musically of another age, the 70s to be precise, which suits me fine.

Thank You - I mentioned Steely Dan earlier, this is very Dan and is a fine and charming closer to the album. "I gotta go/I gotta go/Got nothing more to say". An assured and confident conclusion.

End - Another instumental to appropriately, end the album. It's a dreamy, spaced-out kind of thing which then leads into the hidden track: all bluesy vocals and guitar and again totally unlike everything that has gone before it.

Favourite songs: Good Song/Dream Girl/Count Me Out/Tell Me/It's Only You/It's True.

This is a fantastic debut and hopefully only the beginning of what is sure to be a great career for a very talented artist. Without any doubt, EuropeCrazy's Album of the Year.

The picture of Salem above is from last week's "Allsang pa Skansen" which is still on SVT's site . Sadly it looks as if they've taken the "Grattis Victoria" concert footage off, but there's plenty more footage in all the usual places.

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