samedi 14 septembre 2013

Soundproof, a brilliant second album by Omar Afuni

Omar Afuni will finally release his second album Soundproof on 16th September and even though he tantalized us with the singles Alive and Music therapy in summer 2012 and a digital EP, Soundproof part one, at the end of the year, final touches were made this year, the photo shoots were done recently and finally his work of art will be available next monday (check your local iTunes).

I have discovered Omar's work a couple of years ago now with the cover versions he sang on Youtube, which were beautiful and showcased perfectly the vocal abilities of the man ; plus, the artists and songs he loved and covered were ones I loved too and his renditions added something to the original, really, and not only his warm soulful voice.

His first self-written, self-recorded and self-released album Resurrected (January 2011) was his first work of art, melting all his influences into a blend of electronic soulful pop with oriental inspirations too, that come from the man's native land, Kuwait. But Soundproof, which he gently offered me to have a listen preview, is more than that and shows the evolution of the man, the growth of the artist, after he spent nearly 2 years in England working on his music while studying and working. His passion is music and he gives it to us via his site with his nameyourprice policy of self-releasing digital music. And his commitment to his music is touchable throughout all his lyrics... It is really hard not to be touched by what he does so I can only intice you all to go to his site and have a listen before choosing your price ;).

Soundproof, in his deluxe edition, is made of an intro, 16 songs, an interlude and 2 remixes. I'm gonna give it a full track by track review as always with my first thoughts as I have discovered the songs, just back from my holiday trip in London :

This long (first spoken) intro is a good way to make us enter Omar Afuni's world. The atmosphere is religious with haunting, nearly oppressive arrangements full of angelic voices, but Omar soon enough leaves his spoken words to start to sing and start the statement of his artistic independence the next song explains more.

Already present on the EP, Soundproof is an uptempo electronic rollercoaster where the rhythm takes us along 90's inspired beats and very catchy verses where Omar expresses his soundproof abilities to ignore those who critic and put people down, which, for an internet public artist, is part of the game for sure, and even though he tells us in his lyrics he don't care what these people say, I can't help think it may not have always been the case ; it takes time for a self-made talent to have the knowledge of his own potential and power, and the bad words written in YouTube comments (along the goods) must first have hurt too (PS : don't worry, Omar, who said once you were ugly must be blind ! You have never looked sexier than on your new cover artwork !). But this perfect song tells Omar Afuni has blinded his eyes and ears to these (the sing-along chorus line "I can't hear you" is a vocal gimmick you won't be able to forget after the end of the song !) and this first song ends best with a spoken epilogue that echoes perfectly the previous track's intro.

Next track is the previous single which must be influenced by Omar's love of Madonna as the "time is ticking, ticking" gimmick reminds me a lot of her duet with Justin Timberlake. But Music therapy is a lot more than that and once more, at times, we hear Omar's oriental influences, but never too much. In fact, they're melting perfectly with the electronic dance sounds and fit it just right. What amazes me most is the overall professional sound of his recordings when I know he is working on his own with his microphone and computer. The music doesn't sound homemade at all. Here we have a wall of electro/dance arrangements supported by strong vocals (lead & backing) and with that kind of music therapy in his earphones, anyone would feel happy and start the day positive.

The electro/dance elements continue with the new single (I think) Escape the box and more than its über-catchy rhythm and melody and recurring chorus line, it is the lyrics and purpose of the song that I feel incredibly good ! This new one is a winner again where Omar tells us we can be ourselves and shall not just fit in the mould. This song is a self-identity pure anthem everybody should make his own, a worldwide hit in the making. I would love to see the single cover art shows him portrayed as a Barbie/Ken doll in a box with giant hands ready to open it up :)

05 ALIVE 3:30
Still included on Soundproof is Alive, first released single after Resurrected back in 2011, but this other joyful dance anthem hasn't aged bad. Its beats and rhythm still gives us will to go partying all night and dance till we can't dance no more. An acoustic revamp is included at the end of the album too.

06 BAD 4:30
Not a cover of Michael JacksonOmar Afuni's Bad starts all vocoderized and gloomy to portray a people apologizing to which Omar afterward answer with his singing and with the song's lyrics. The purpose here is to know how to turn the page over mistakes and not turn around in our own regrets. The repetitive chorus portrays it nice but the song's overall atmosphere is a little darker than previous ones and the vocal effects in the bridge sound too retro for me ; this is the first song, in its arrangements, that I don't love 100%, but still a good one and I like the lyrics and idea of the song. Till then, Omar wants to help us feel better. His music is better than pills to work against crisis and depression, isn't it ?

07 LOVING YOU 4:29
Although this new track still starts with electro ascending loops, soon it evolves into a sweeter love/thankyou song with beautiful strings and a chorus melody really marvellous, perfectly sung by Omar's warm voice. And I don't even talk about his backing vocals adding harmonies to this piece of art everyone would like to love to either his - mother or - boy/girl-friend. although less dance than the pop I love best, I really like this one a lot and it will definitely be on repeat mode !

08 BORDERS 4:14
Omar keeps the romantic love atmosphere on Borders and his happy-go lucky joyful chant and melody, for a long-distance lovestory that can stand the separation. The bridge goes all beatless for Omar's words of heart he's singing nearly acapella and I understand his times in London alone must have been hard and lonely too, away from his family and friends, while I imagined it had help him become himself. This song's inspiration sure comes from there but only that second part of bridge shows the melancholia, the overall feeling is as optimistic as the melody.

I am a lot more reserved on Omar's choices on Heartbreak & sun rays production, as I don't like the principal sound element of the orchestration, whatever it is, sounding like a mix between retro keyboard and pipes ? I miss the words really to write it in english... It sounds a little retro and with a step a little further, it could have been a country song. This comes from its form and lyrics, that make it a melancholic song but the second part of the chorus, breathy and lightful, is extraordinary good (when it goes " 'til it beats, 'til I breathe...") and I would have loved an electro/dance version of this one... Then the bridge goes all rap, which finishes to put me down, and even the last bits of orchestration at the end of the song sound too pling/plong to me with the vocoderized effect. This is the one I don't like ! :)

Portrait of a lady doesn't come back to the electro/dance with his delicate strings arrangement and sometimes nearly baroque singing. I imagine renaissance big dress and wig at Buckingham for a ballet. This is a shot back in time, a musical essai that sounds odd but brilliant for what it intended to be. Hats off Mr. Afuni :)

Although teh previous track ended with the sound of a train/metro leaving me thinking we would change of mood for the new one, Leave me alone is starting all retro while I was hoping for a return to an electro/dance second part of the album. Mid-tempo and very personal in his lyrics, this one shows Omar's intimacy, where he feels a stranger to this world, a "weirdo, a freak" and rather be left alone. Musically, it fits perfectly, and this was never meant to be catchy.

This instrumental interlude ends this part of the album with a Judy Garland's Over the rainbow sampling that to me gives a hint to how Omar feels aside, but he's not alone in the world, no, sure you're not !

And from the intro of Flashing lights, I know the dance/pop is back in the game, with disco inspiration this time, à la manière de what Daft Punk recently have done with Nile Rodgers : uptempo disco inspired electronical pop/dance for nowadays. Even if the calmer pre-chorus stops a little the catchiness of the song, it would fit perfectly if released as a further single to me : this one sounds really classy ! Like the way the bridge goes all smooth before stepping back on disco balls again... Smashing !

14 MIRACLE 3:58
Beats reminiscent of the 90's start Miracle and the electro/dance is back on board ! I will never get enough of that kind of track, uptempo, uplifting, in its melody and lyrics : that is the pop music that makes us feel better ; once again single potential, the kind that makes you go wild in the clubs, with the hands up in the air, eyes closed, lost in a dance trance where the heart beats to the rhythm of the music and the feet nearly don't touch the ground anymore...  Omar, thank you for that but please, remix it to the max to make the pleasure last a little longer :) (and that plea comes from a radio edit addict... !)

I like the idea of the intro with Omar playing a teacher in front of his class to explain the word made of appreciation and hate ("the recognition and enjoyment of someone's good qualities, and hating them for having these qualities"), then again to sing about hating and the way people express their bad feelings, one of the main themes for Soundproof. Alas for me, the song lends too much on R&B/rap inspiration again for my ears and the rhythm is really repetitive and not my cup of tea, but there's gotta me something for everyone, isn't it ?

Breathing calms down the pace and sounds all romantic, even though Omar's voice has been digitallized with vocoder effects to sound electronic and make it fit maybe. With natural recorded vocals, this one may have sounded too organic, old-fashioned, but then, with this voice effects added on top of the beautiful crafted melody and gentle and subtle arrangements, it does sound modern and nice. The conclusion words In love with you I fell so deep could easily fit to everyone's feelings while listening to Omar Afuni's voice...

Odd choice of placing - even though it would certainly have sounded out of place between any song here - for Super trouper, not a cover of the ABBA song but a song that certainly does sound retro and like out of space (and time) here, but still very enjoyable ! At the start, I felt it was some sort of rockabilly, america-inspired but then comes nice pipes and I hear retro sounds of the 40's/50's ? I'm not sure... but I do visualize Andrew Sisters dancing for the soldiers, old microphones and Josephine Baker in the mix. Super trouper is like an alien on Soundproof, but one I didn't want not to hear ! It is definitely a highlight of the album, because it simply gives a final punch, a joyful and delightful piece of musical happiness.

18 THE CALM 4:50
Hard to follow the rhythm of the previous track and Omar chose to close the album with an untemporal piece of calmness and beauty, rightcalled The calm, and his voice sounds so gently and warm, it is the perfect lullaby for anyone wanting to sleep in the sun, laying on the grass or the sand at the beach. I especially like the gentle piano high notes that highlight the melody and his voice.

As a bonus, we get a new acoustic version of the oldest song of the tracklisting, Alive, and it sounds well, just after The calm, taking from where we were left and adding more and more beats to show Omar Afuni's music doesn't need any electronic computery-made music elements to shine.

Last offering of this rich and long album, the remix of Music therapy, perfect for a saturday night homeclubbing with friends.

So what's next ?
Use some extra REPLAY mode ?
link to on 16th of September and download it ? SURE !
What else ?
Listen and listen and listen again...
Make it hit your iPod's playlist's highlights and spread the word to your friends and express your love of his music to Omar on his pages :
He has no record contract, no support from a record company/label so all he gets comes from us all : give him what he deserves : our love and appreciation !

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