Revisiting Karavan Serai’s Gorgeously Slinky, Psychedelic Middle Eastern Themes
Karavan Serai‘s haunting, hypnotic album Woven Landscapes came out in 2015. Considering how lush this blend of original Iranian and Middle Eastern-inspired music is, it’s almost a shock to find out that there’s just two guys in the band. Narayan Sijan plays the stringed instruments and the percussion, and sings in a strong, resonant baritone. Carmen Rizzo plays keys and supplies electronic textures that are often very enveloping. The record is streaming at Bandcamp.
These two like slinky one-chord jams, and always find a way to make them interesting. A slow, swaying, warmly dusky theme, The Journey, opens the album. How trippy is this? With incisive oud and tar lute awash in Rizzo’s echoey sonics, it’s plenty psychedelic, but just as joyous as it reaches the end. The second track, Schirin is completely different, a broodingly dramatic if equally serpentine Arabic-flavored tune where the oud is a lot more prominent.
River Bend starts out with even more epic grandeur and grows more surreal and atmospheric, with Sijan’s multitracked tar lute, oud and buzuq echoing each other. His allusive, steady cascades in The Road to Hijaz tease the listener, as he only uses the iconic Arabic scale on the turnaround. Tingly buzuq contrasts with cumulo-nimbus atmospherics in the first part of Caspian Sea, then Rizzo adds an unexpected trip-hop rhythm while Sijan’s Arabic phrasing gets more animated, but more hypnotic as well.
He digs into majestic raga-like chords as Rizzo adds graceful piano and synth accents over drony atmospherics in Upon My Own Hand. Desert Water, a diptych, begins with a hazy ambience and morphs into the album’s most lighthearted track: appropriately enough, since it’s about a mirage. The duo close the album with the alternately echoey, gritty, aptly majestic High Mountain, the closest thing here to Rizzo’s other Iranian band, Niyaz.