One of the most capriciously cruel effects of the post-2020 lockdowns was the separation of families from ailing, elderly parents. Because of totalitarian travel restrictions, singer Mamak Khadem was unable to return home to her native Iran to see her father before he died: divide-and-conquer taken to a particularly sadistic extreme. Khadem channeled her grief into an often wrenchingly beautiful, immersive tribute, Remembrance, streaming at youtube.
Although the album is characteristically eclectic and spans many genres, it’s 180 degrees from the exuberance and exhilaration of her previous release The Road, a 2016 brass-and-string fueled mashup of Balkan dances and classical Persian poetry. For whatever reason, this is more of an art-rock record.
The sound is more desolate and enveloping, sculpted largely by multi-instrumentalist Jamshied Sharifi, guitarist Marc Copely and cellist Chris Votek, with many other musicians contributing. Khadem sings in Farsi, opening with the title track. Mickey Raphael’s forlorn, bluesy minor-key harmonica is an unexpected touch in this slowly swaying setting of the Saadi Shirazi poem, Copely’s multitracks and Khadem’s imploring, melismatic vocals flickering over Sharifi’s atmospheric backdrop. It brings to mind peak-era, mid-zeros Botanica.
Khadem rises from a wary tenderness to fullscale angst in Mina, a brooding, drifting setting of a Saied Soltanpour text lowlit by Sharifi’s piano and Benjamin Wittman’s clip-clop percussion. Khadem goes to the Rumi repertoire for the lyrics to Entangled over dissociative, rhythmic layers of vocals, cello and wafting synthesized orchestration.
Khadem takes a backseat, contributing vocalese to Across the Oceans, Coleman Barks narrating the Rumi poem over a loopy, simple backdrop with spare contributions from Roubik Haroutunian on duduk and Ivan Chardakov on gaida bagpipes. Dead and Alive begins more calmly, in a pastoral Pink Floyd vein, then Copely pulls the energy skyward. It’s an apt poem for this point in history: one of its central themes is to be open to serendipity.
Khadem sets an emotive Fatemeh Baraghani poem to a starkly gorgeous traditional Armenian theme in Face to Face, Mehdi Bagheri adding ravishing, spiraling kamancheh fiddle. Copely plays spare resonator guitar behind Khadem’s warm, hopeful delivery in Messenger, Sharifi turning up the enveloping keyboard ambience. The final cut is Don’t Go Without Me: Barks’ English narration is especially poignant considering the circumstances, as is Khadem’s gentle, wounded interpretation of the original. As her harmonies rise in the distance, the effect is viscerally heartbreaking.