The concept of being “existentially wasted” seems somewhat appropriate in the context of increasingly confused (and confusing) modern society. It's a concept that could easily have been born out of something like The Matrix, a process of being burnt out on being. Modern humans are often simply swamped with information, much of which seems utterly useless in the bigger scheme of things: advertisements, conflicting stories, and plain stupidity day after day, and sifting through this mess can weigh on a person. Still, as Portland, Oregon musician Ali Muhareb makes clear on his 2016 sophomore release, being “existentially wasted” doesn't have to be a total downer.
Appearing on the scene in late 2013 with a release entitled Mujahadeen, about as provocative a title as one could come up with these days, Muhareb spread his name through a string of tour dates in the following years, all the while hashing out the five tracks of Existentially Wasted. The end result is a self-described bedroom pop project that presents a compelling blend of crunchy electronic rhythms with wispy, psychedelic melodies and vocals seemingly conjured from the brain of a perpetual beach-dweller.
Supremely catchy and excruciatingly likable, the album begins with a gradual swell of triumphant ambiance in opener “I Will Write a Song,” and a listener is instantly drawn into a laid-back universe completely detached from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Muhareb's hazy main vocal line is joined by otherworldly, Chipmunks-like secondary parts which flutter above warm, shifting guitar parts and repeating trumpet hooks. Lyrically, the song drifts along from discussions of, apparently, writing this very song itself to his contentment with life as a whole: generally, it's a sharp contrast to the more moody tunes that many indie musicians typically craft. Built on top of noisy, clanking percussion, the album's title track makes use of guitar parts that may as well been lifted out of vintage surf rock. Muhareb's echoing vocal melodies are relatively simple, but that's part of the reason why they work so well, and there's a nice sense of crispness to the way the whole thing plays out.
One of Muhareb's best abilities demonstrated throughout the album is a knack for knowing when to say when with regard to recording “hot” instrumental and vocal parts. A perfect example of this is found in debut single “When Do I Begin,” which introduces a very nearly overblown guitar lick that could very well have come across as being downright flatulent in the hands of a less confident musician. Later on, a screeching solo line trumpets to the surface of the track, and I love how these parts work in context, making the playful and bouncy tune my favorite of the bunch. Arguably the most blissed-out track here, “Worlds Apart” has a swaying tropical vibe to it, even as it throws in occasionally harsh electronic elements, and things conclude with the short “Dambala Dub,” an almost chillwavey sort of track which slithers forward on the back of a smarmy bassline and multiple keyboard lines.
Existentially Wasted is incredibly solid as a piece of low-key electro-infused rock, but it's this last track that all but ensures a listener is left wanting more when all is said and done. Honestly, that's about all I could hope for on an album this short (just 16 and a half minutes). Ali Muhareb isn't the right choice for those in the mood for “get up and go” music, but I could hardly come up with something better to chill out to after a long day.
8.0 / 10
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Posted Feb. 5, 2016, 8:59 a.m.
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