The following is a multimedia article. The links therein will lead you either to song files, websites, or videos. To be able to see and download all the songs that are mentioned in the article, you can go to this page. The mp3 files represented on the page are there for you to download and keep should you wish to do so [Also see PART 2].
Burn down the disco
Hang the blessed DJ
Because the music that they constantly play
It says nothing to me about my life…
Hang the DJ, Hang the DJ, Hang the DJ…
* The Smiths: "Panic"
"We’re not Pink Floyd" he says. "Why do they expect us to be Pink Floyd?" Those are words from Arash Sobhani, singer/songwriter of Kiosk, the Iranian rock band that has been making quite a name for itself in the past two years. Since the days I wrote and published the conversation we had on Orkut in November 2005, the band has made a major leap in making itself known to the general public, and quite successfully, I might add. As I also run the Kiosk fan community on Orkut, the release of their second album a few months ago gave me the opportunity to have a second conversation with not only Arash, but also with Babak Khiavchi, head of Bamahang Productions (Kiosk’s record label) and Ahmad Kiarostami, the director of the now famed Eshghe Sorat video. I’ll publish the whole conversation in a few parts after this intro and review. Since the band will begin touring starting tomorrow, the conversation will spread throughout the length of the tour, as it was quite a long one to be published in one go anyway.
One thing I should mention from the beginning is that in the space of the past two years, Arash and I have become good friends and writing this article came with the difficulties of walking on the thin line of compromising between objectivity and the friendship that has now been established between me and the subject of my piece. After thinking long about the dilemma, I finally decided that I should be Kiosk’s harshest critique if I want to be a good friend and keep my objectivity at the same time. So if at points you feel my review of the album is a bit on the tough side, keep in mind that this has been more an exercise of my own integrity than one at trying to please my audience or Kiosk’s.
And so why do people think Kiosk should be Pink Floyd? Does anyone actually think Kiosk should be Pink Floyd? Not really. It’s just that everyone is so thrilled at the idea of having an Iranian rock band getting them out of the boredom of Iranian pop that you’ll see all sorts of suggestions popping up on the Kiosk web site. One would say “chapaki lengesh kon” and another “down with shish o hasht” (okay, I’m kidding about those two, but you get the point), but almost all agree that Kiosk sounds like “Dire Estraight”! That’s another thing that pisses Arash off. “Why do they all say we sound like Dire Estraight??” Of course he knows the name of the band is Dire Straits, he grew up listening to it. He even has the deepest admiration for Mark Knopfler and he’s seen him in concert a couple of dozen times. All right, perhaps less. But you get the point. So what is the problem? The problem is that he’s not doing it on purpose! In fact, the real problem is that it’s not exactly the music that’s important with Kiosk. That’s right, you can read and re-read that a few more times. Did anyone ever say how the words in their songs sound like they came out of a Hedayat satire? Well they actually did. Some. At least they were inspired by Hedayat. Did anyone say how Kiosk’s raunchy lyrics are probably the most easily comprehensible and yet true-to-the -point critic of the state of affairs in Iran? Some people did. But not everyone caught the point.
As a good friend who also contributes to Iranian.com was saying, “it’s not the music. Kiosk is more about the poetry. In fact, it is modern urban poetry if you think about it.” I think he’s right. Kiosk is really more about what’s being said. The music serves as a background at times, as an illustration of the point at others, and as just plain having fun on non-social commentary tracks. I’ll show you what I mean here:
Eshghe Sorat (listen here)– The most famous song of the album so far, mainly due to the video, which has been viewed close to 300,000 times. It spent a day or two as YouTube’s most linked music video as well. That’s quite a feat, if you think about the number of music videos that get uploaded on YouTube every day. The music on this track diverges quite much from what we heard on the previous album, which generally had a bluesier feel to it. In fact, it sounds like a late seventies disco tune. In reality, it’s a lot like the beginning of this tune from Saturday Night Fever! Why is that? Well listen to the words. The song talks about a country that has become ghorazeh, stuck in the past, perhaps in 1979 (when Saturday Night fever was still hot), but with big ambitions. A country that has a love for speed but only drives a Jian ghorazeh to get there. The music therefore sounds as ghorazeh and outdated as the rest of what’s being described too. Get it? Even the beautiful keyboard solo played by Reza Moghaddas sounds a lot like the one in 1979's Street Life by The Crusaders. I won’t ramble on how the lyrics are great and what have you, that’s already been done. Just listen to them and you won’t need my directions.
Bitarbiat – All those who have had the misfortune of watching IRIB inside Iran must have felt the urge of strangling one of those TV presenters at least once at some point. Although Babak Khiavchi will say this song is about bad TV everywhere, the allusions to homeland broadcasting are too strong for that argument to go down the throat in one piece. Also listen carefully to the metaphors in there – “kalagh ba sedaye bolbol” – nobody could have painted a better portrait of the you-know-whos/whats in one simple stroke. The music here serves more as a background than as a décor, like on the previous song, but it’s been chosen well. The whole feel of the country/western backdrop evokes the nagging old man who ‘s just ready to take out his do-lool and shoot that damn TV screen any minute!
Hame Ragham Mojood Ast – Although this one has been written with the problems of our homeland in mind, the theme can be applied anywhere. Oonja hichki sare jash nist, but here neither. It’s just that in Iran, things are worse. This song is the first where we hear the background vocals of Farzaneh Hemmasi, a nice addition to the Kiosk line-up. All that masculine feel present in the songs needed a feminine voice to counter-balance the manliness of Arash’s vocal chords. I know this one is a favorite of many, and they’re probably not that wrong!
Afsoos – This is more like a personal song lyrics-wise. The beat is all lively but the music doesn’t really match the words. I felt like this one could have benefited from some fine-tuning, also notably on the recording level. Overall, I felt Adame Mamooli was a lot more carefully crafted recording-wise than this album. This is one song where this shows. However…
Shab Raft - … However, this one’s where all the faulty stuff comes to surface. The song was originally a beautiful bossanova, which eventually got changed into a high-pitch Arash going off on his guitar. Now as high-pitch is not exactly Arash’s forte, I guess he decided to give it a Cohen twist afterwards. But somehow in the last minute a lot of things went wrong, like the guitar sounds out of tune at points, or the beat gives it a slow-train-running feel. Anyway, the song is still nice, but what remains of it on the album leaves much to be desired.
To Kojaee – Great beat, sounding wittingly or not, like Noir Désir’s “Les écorchés”. The violin comes in at the right moment and does magic. My hat’s off to those who thought of bringing in the fiddle there. This one comes closest to what Arash wanted to sound like when we had our last public conversation, saying he was experimenting with gypsy music. Lyrics-wise though, there’s nothing special, just that the combination of music and lyrics create the needed imagery of the person who has lost his lover and is wandering around, unnerved. It comes with a fantastic video from 2+1 production too. Goodie. My only gripe: The drums would have sounded better like this.
Kolangee Ghabele Sokoonat – Now if Arash says Kiosk doesn’t have anything to do with Pink Floyd, this is where I beg to differ. The lyrics here are close to what could be described as a mixture of sad Shahre Ghesse or good Hedayat with Pink Floyd (if not as perfect as, say, Nobody Home from The Wall). Not only that, the guitar piece on the bridge is, in my opinion, very close to a good Floyd, although Arash will tell you it’s closer to Camel (see conversation in the next parts of this article). This was by far the most poignant of them all in terms of social commentary to me. If we had fair judges in our culture, this song would probably be hailed as a masterpiece and a classic, both in terms of lyrics and the music. Unfortunately, as we don’t have that structure, at least not yet, it won’t. Listen to it carefully. It’s all in metaphors, and boy, what metaphors. Pink Floyd + Hedayat = Bingo.
Miniboos Sabz – A typical Kiosk social commentary. Again, the music here serves more as to set the ambiance than to really stand alone. Vahik and Masis will make you laugh, so will the people going home with their mast-o-kalbas-o-chips. People having lived outside Iran will have a harder time relating to this song, as we even had a girl on the community asking where “Vozara” is. Overall one of the better pieces of the album.
Lalaee Baraye Madarbozorg – Simply a short tender acoustic guitar piece that comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere, but falls in the middle of the album, much like Sting's "St. Agnes And The Burning Train" in the middle of Soul Cages. Dedicated to all the madarbozorgs we’ll never see again.
Amoo Asdollah – If I had one major complaint about this album, it would be about this song. While Arash was writing the songs for the album, he was calling and e-mailing me, asking me about specific sentences that were said in Daie Jan Napoleon. As the book is like my bible and I carry it anywhere I move to, I always had it ready to search for the specific characters or lines he wanted. However, when I heard the final result, all I wanted to say was “babam hey”. The song is packed with expressions from the book that are jammed together, but which don’t really make much sense in the end. Arash’s vocals don’t help here and the music sounds unrelated too. A miss in my book. Pezeshkzad halalemoon kone.
Zoghale Khoob – A hymn-like song that closes the album. Again, social commentary at its best, diverting the listeners’ attention to the plight of our generation in Iran, where Shadi (“Happiness”) falls into depression, Azadeh gets jailed, and Omid dies. Multi-vocal, perfect for mass singing at the concert, and perhaps this was the idea behind creating the song in this form.
Kiosk is going on a tour right now, and this will be the perfect opportunity to see the band live. One of the things that amazed me about their sound was that they are a better band live than what can be heard on their album. Whatever was missing there on the record is to be found at the concert, oddly. Usually, it’s the other way around, bands sound better in studio.
The other good news about the concerts, at least the one in Toronto on the 8th of September, is that the show will open with music from Barzin. Barzin is an Iranian artist who is virtually unknown to the Iranian crowd, but who has quite a following among the western crowd. I actually love his music and I’m having an online conversation with him as we speak, which will be published after the series on Kiosk. Those who know me, know that I don’t write about music or bands I don’t like and I’m quite picky, so this should already give you an idea about what I think of the musician. His music? Think the quiet side of pop, Air’s “Playground Love” or Chemical Brothers “Asleep From Day”, extremely peaceful and sensual, with meaningful lyrics to further the pleasure. Get a taste of it here for now.
Part 2: A long, intimate conversation with Kiosk band members.
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