A gentle guitar melody overlaps frayed electric feedback that flickers like static. The two frequencies blend together softly, rising and falling just enough to meet the delicate modulations of our singer’s grief. She calls out in Urdu, her voice thick:
Gather the scattered pieces of your heart
There’s no one in this desolate world but you, but at least you have yourself
Your beloved is gone, but his memory remains. Running in your veins, at least
Her delivery is not direct or deliberate — she seems to offer the words naturally, as if at the whim of a real, lived moment instead of a recorded song. The music builds to a subdued form of crescendo as she repeats the song’s title, Saans Lo (translated as Breathe), over and over, at varying heights and levels of urgency. Her voice is eventually replaced by a soft rhythm — the steady sound of water reaching shore and receding back into itself. This, too, gives way to silence.
So goes the wandering, unfurling nature of Vulture Prince, the latest album from Brooklyn-based Pakistani artist Arooj Aftab. Borrowing lyrics from a number of poets, Sufi classics, and a late friend, Aftab tells their tales of love and loss in a wavering, ornamented vocal style that this writer found simultaneously haunting and soothing.
Her voice is backed by layers of piano, horn, light percussion and a dizzying variety of strings. But she never crowds her instruments — though they seem to weave in and out at will, Aftab maintains a sense of balance and space throughout each of these six and seven minute songs. She adds and pulls back instruments at a steady pace that allows each its own room to breathe, giving the listener mindspace to absorb the music with plenty of room left over for their own thoughts and emotions to stir.
In VULTURE PRINCE, Arooj Aftab Uses Long, Wandering Instrumentals to Weave a Narrative of Love and Heartache
At times you might find that you’ve been lulled into a state of calm, or near-trance by the steady, wandering motion of the music, only to be shaken from your stupor by a surprisingly-placed note or unexpected tonal shift. In Last Night, for example, Aftab sings at first in English, leading us into a bouncing, reggae-like instrumental sequence:
Last night my beloved was like the moon
But about two minutes in, a low bass note threads itself into the music, gaining volume and prominence over the other instruments — and the song suddenly shifts. Aftab sings now in Urdu, her voice lowered with a newfound heft and texture as she winds and stretches her words around the notes. The instrumentals — once light and steady — are now overpowered by the dark, velvet-like quality of her voice, and the low vibrational resonance of the bassline. After such a long, slow buildup, the dissonance is so powerful that this writer found it to be nearly breathtaking.
Although speed and intensity vary from song to song, Vulture Prince has a primarily contemplative and subdued energy. It’s written in part from a state of mourning, and the emotions carry a certain weight that might take some adjustment, depending on your headspace.
If you shy away from long instrumental sequences, or prefer songs with a linear structure or pattern, this album might not be for you. If you’re willing to invest some time, attention, and intensive listening energy, the payoff is high, in this writer’s opinion. Equal parts meditative, cathartic and surprising, Vulture Prince has a transcendental quality that might take you to new heights.
COMPOSED AND PRODUCED by Arooj Aftab
FEATURED MUSICIANS: Badi Assad, Maeve Gilchrist, Jamey Haddad, Bhrigu Sahni, Kenji Herbert, Lady Jess, Jarvis Benson, Malcolm Parson, Jorn Bielfeldt, Shazhad Ismaily, Juliette Jones, Mario Carrillo, Petros Klampanis, Nadje Noordhuis, Gyan Riley, and Darian Donovan Thomas
LABEL: New Amsterdam Records
Click here for information about how to listen to Vulture Prince.
About the Author: Lily LeaVesseur
Lily LeaVesseur has harbored a fondness for the arts since she was a few months old, when her parents took her on her first of many stroller rides through the halls of the Art Institute of Chicago. Even after moving to San Diego as a child, she returned many times so that she could stare down her favorite pieces, combing them over again and again for clues to their greatness.
She carried this enthusiasm like a missionary, and in high school petitioned to re-open the single Art History course on the roster so that she could study it with her friends. She loved feeling like she could unlock some sort of intangible mystery behind works of art, and looking for herself within the artists that created them.
Since then Lily has continued to explore art both analytically and creatively. She now writes poetry and non-fiction, sometimes accompanied by illustrations or watercolor, and hopes to one day collect these works into a graphic novel. When she's not writing or drawing, she can otherwise be found skating with friends, experimenting with new food combinations, and/or lying on the floor contemplating the transcendental nature of TikTok.