New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: turkish rock

A Mesmerizing, Haunting, Potently Relevant New Album From Turkish Singer Olcay Bayir

In March of last year, singer Olcay Bayir and her band were two days away from leaving on a tour – sponsored by the British government, no less. Then the lockdown crushed the performing arts in almost every country around the world.

In the days since, Bayir has not been idle. She made a name for herself with a rapturously beautiful album of traditional Turkish music back in 2015. Her new ep, Inside (İçerde) is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a showcase for her increasingly remarkable ability to shift gears stylistically, but at the same time it’s a portrait of anguish and frustration.

Conventional wisdom is that working over the web is seamlessly efficient, but in reality the reverse is true. Issues that could be ironed out in the company of musicians onstage or in the studio take hours or even days when they’re separated by continents. Which makes this achievement all the more impressive, considering how much adversity Bayir and her global supporting cast had to tackle.

The first track is Asude (At Peace), her voice wounded and imploring. She sings in Turkish: the last line of the chorus is “My last words are for you, but I can’t say them.” Behind her, guitarist Ignacio Lusardi Monteverde and bağlama player Huseyin Murat Sığırcı build flamenco intensity over Memed Mert Baycan’s percussion.

Track two, Ela is completely different, an echoey, psychedelic art-rock collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Deniz Mahir Kartal, based on a love poem by iconic medieval Turkish bard Karacaoğlan. Bayir really reaches for the rafters here.

The album’s third song, Yalnizlik (Loneliness) is a somewhat more organic but equally dramatic strain of art-rock. Serdar Barçın – of Turkish psychedelic legends Yeni Turku – contributes pensively circling ney flute over a steady background from pianist Christian Prior, bassist Tom McCredie and percussionist Kostas Kopanaris.

The final cut is the key to the record. In Kayip Cocuk (Lost Child), Bayir draws the connection between the horrors of children orphaned by war, and the pandemic of child abuse that followed in the wake of the lockdown. She doesn’t address this head-on, but it’s going to take an enormous amount of therapy and compassion to heal the trauma of an entire generation who were terrorized into believing that proximity to other people is deadly.. Erdi Arslan’s moody düdük filters through Alistair MacSween’s tersely atmospheric keys as Bayir rises from gentle consolation to full-blown anguish. It’s an anthem for our time – and this is one of the best short albums of the year.

Lingering, Grey-Sky Turkish Psychedelia and Spacerock From Minor Empire

Minor Empire play a spare, psychedelic, electric rock take on Turkish music with occasional echoes of jazz. Their slowly unwinding songs tend to be on the overcast side. Their album Uprooted is streaming at Spotify – and there’s a very useful English ltranslation at the group’s lyric page.

The album’s first track, Istanbul dan Uskudar a Yol Gid, begins with a hypnotically pinwheeling baglama riff. From there the band ease their way into a slow, moody, chromatic sway behind Ozan Boz’s lingering electric guitar, frontwoman Ozgu Ozman’s voice wafting gently over a tricky, insistent rhythm from Chris Gartner on bass and Ben Riley on ominous, boomy drums.

Mendilimin Yesil is a spacious mashup of psychedelic rock and jazz, with Lina Allemano’s lingering trumpet, staccato wah-wah guitar and Ozman’s delicately ornamented, melismatic vocals. Gunes Turkusu builds from simmering layers of guitar, through drifting spacerock to a snarling coda, and then comes full circle. If U2 were Turkish (and had a good singer), Yutsuz, with its elegant bass descending to downtuned murk, could be an atmospheric tune from Tıkırtı ve Vızıltı (that’s Rattle and Hum in Turkish).

Awash in rising and falling pings, pulses, resonant guitars and chiming baglama, Ag Elime Mor Kinalar Yaktiar brings to mind Australian spacerock legends the Church. Ozman’s voice rises more insistently in Iki Kekik, one of the album’s more minimal numbers. At the end of Dunya, a hypnotically crescendoing instrumental, the guitar finally hits a mighty, surfy clang: it was worth the wait!

They follow that with Tohum, a brief, allusively anthemic tableau, and stay in moody, atmospheric mode with Bahar. The mini-suite concludes with the echoey wave motion of Babam.

With its web of kaleidoscopic textures, Selanik Turkusu is arguably the album’s trippiest and most enigmatic number. The starry, atmospheric Uyuttum Atlari has tinges of Asian folk music. The group wind up the record with Tutari Yar Elindem, the guitars taking over after Ozman’s finished with a circling, pensive theme. Turkish psychedelia has a long and rich history and this album is a welcome addition.

Spot-On, Slinky Retro 70s Turkish Psychedelia From Umut Adan

Today’s album is Bahar (meaning “spring”), by Turkish psychedelic rocker Umut Adan., streaming at Spotify. He looks back to classic 70s Turkish psychedelic acts like Cem Karaca, Fikret Kızılok and Erkin Koray, both musically and lyrically, with slightly more digital 21st century production values. It’s hard to think of a catchier record released over the past year or so.

Authoritarian regimes have a history of crushing artists who make people think (USA, 2020, right?) and many of the acts Adan draws on paid a heavy price for their innovations and political fearlessness, even if they often cached their messages in metaphors, or allusions to classic poetry and mythology. Adan salutes that while remaining true to their distinctive sound: minor-key fuzztone guitar, trebly bass and keys, and scurrying drums, perfectly capsulized by the album’s allusively funky opening track, Bembeyaz Cananim.

The fuzztone goes way down, further than the bass in the swaying, dirgey Seytanin Aklini Celdim. Ortasindan Gel is a brisk. bouncy folk-rock song, a Turkish take on Rubber Soul era Beatles. Gunes has plinky sax lute behind the muted ba-bump rhythm and warpy fuzztone sway.

The album’s starkest track is the broodingly anthemic Zaman Zaman, just acoustic rhythm guitar, vocals and an ominous flange guitar riff. Dunyalardan Sen Bahar could be a low-key track from London Calling, a cheery tropically-tinged riff kicking off the verses. Sevdigimi Sectim gallops along with a dusky desert rock-style groove, while the lithely dancing, midtempo Bandirma Baskent Oldu could be a 21st century act like the Mystic Braves or Allah-Las with Turkish lyrics.

The mutedly pulsing Arabam Kaldi is the most musically stripped-down, and in that sense poppiest, tune here. Heavy drums and bass anchor Kadikoylu Kadikoylu, lo-fi synth oscillating way back in the mix. Adan closes the record with Ana Baba Baci Gardas, a darkly bristling, rhythmically tricky psych-folk tune, running his vocals through a watery Leslie speaker.

An Epic East Village Show by Haunting Turkish Rock Singer Mehmet Erdem

Friday night at Drom, intense crooner Mehmet Erdem led his four-piece band through an epic, towering, majestic set of elegant, darkly crescendoing Turkish art-rock. Wearing a wireless headset, he and the sound guy had an animated dialogue going during the first few numbers of a concert that went on for well over two hours into Saturday morning. Which makes sense – although Erdem is a talented multi-instrumentalist who plays several Turkish lutes, his first gig as a professional was not as a musician but as a sound engineer. After a few tweaks, he was content: Drom is one of New York’s most sonically pristine venues.

That calm, meticulous approach extended to his vocals as well. In a powerful, resonant baritone, he stood resolute and mostly motionless in the center of the stage, intoning a long series of brooding, slowly crescendoing ballads in his native vernacular. You could call him the Turkish Leonard Cohen – although Erdem has a lot more range beyond Cohen’s foggy low register.

As is often the case with Turkish rock, Erdem’s lyrics are enigmatic and allusive, with the occasional mythological reference. What appear to be brooding lost-love laments on the surface may have political overtones, thinly veiled nostalgia for freedom and basic human rights. As the night wore on, the crowd sang along: even for non-Turkish speakers, it was easy to get a sense of meaning from Erdem’s articulation and forcefulness, and from the audience as well. The ladies sang along lustily on the night’s most carefree ballad; other times, phones were raised defiantly. Let’s hope some of this footage makes it to youtube.

The band were fantastic. Interestingly, for all his fretboard talent, Erdem only played oud, and only on a handful of songs midway through the show. And he never cut loose, negotiating a couple of serpentine intros with a brooding terseness, choosing his spots and slowly building suspense. His acoustic guitarist added incisive melody that occasionally shifted toward flamenco or the Middle East, especially when the music’s minor modes grew darkest (Turkish rock can be gothic AF, an effect that really kicked in when he switched to keyboards on the night’s most majestic numbers). Meanwhile, the rhythm section lurked in the background, occasionally rising when the tempos picked up.

But the star of the show was the clarinetist. In the Balkans and eastward, clarinet is often the lead instrument, and this band’s lead guy is killer. Opening with a dazzling, microtonal flourish was a red herring, considering that he matched the bandleader’s moody resonance most of the way through. As the set picked up steam, he opened a couple of numbers with all-too-brief taqsims, parsing every haunting tonality he could get out of his reed.

By about one in the morning, Erdem had methodically worked up to a peak, through grooves that a couple of times snuck their way from cumbia to straight-up stadium rock, with a couple of lively detours into funk and even roots reggae. From there, the group hit the hardest, with a series of singalong anthems. They brought it down somewhat at the end, closing on a somewhat disquieting, unresolved note. At that point, there was no need for an encore.

Drom is one of only a handful of clubs in the US, and the only one in New York which regularly features Turkish rock. Extraordinary chanteuse Sertab Erener – whose music is somewhat quieter but just as lavish – is there on May 25 at 7 PM.

Wild Turkish Psychedelic Rock Rescued From Obscurity

One of the most amazing albums released this year is Uzelli Psychedelic Anadolu, a compilation streaming at Spotify that pays homage to the Turkish cassette label that released some of the wildest, most surreal sounds to emerge from that part of the world. Spanning from 1975 to 1984, this trippy ten-track playlist collects hard funk, symphonic rock, disco, electrified Turkish traditional ballads and anthems…and what sounds like a long radio commercial.

String synth, organ, wry wah synth and soaring, otherworldly, microtonal zurna oboe mingle in Zor Beyler’s suspenseful, lushly anthemic Gozumdeki Yaslar. The second track, by guitarslinger Erkin Koray, is a one-chord heavy funk jam, fuzztone acid lead guitar over loping bass and drums, with an emphatic spoken-word lyric: Turkish rap from forty years ago!

Powerful baritone crooner Kerem Guney’s Sicak Bir Sevda is a slashing, richly catchy Middle Eastern rock gem, sparkling electric baglama trading off with spare yet searing electric guitar. Asik Emrah’s Bu Ellerden Gocup is one of the trippiest cuts here, a mashup of psychedelic latin funk and spiky, oscillating Turkish classical sounds – is that an electric saz lute that’s taking that twistedly oscillating solo?

Longing and hazy angst pervade Yar Senin Icin, by chanteuse Elvan Sevil, a trickily syncopated, broodingly catchy anthem blending austere guitar with more of that delicious electric saz. Seker Oglan’s epic dancefloor jam Akbaba Ikilisi has a straightforwardly slinky, disco-tinged groove and similarly tasty, microtonal fretboard melismatics. Deniz Ustu Kopurur nicks a classic Stooges riff for Unal Buyukgonenc, a similarly vast, shapeshifting web of enigmatic reverb guitar and similarly reverb-drenched zurna: it’s the most psychedelic number here.

Nese Alkan gives her vocals a suspenseful, dramatic allure in Kacma Guzel, which comes across as sort of proto Balkan reggae. The compilation’s final track, by Ali Ayhan, mashes up wah funk and majestically sweeping, starkly string-driven Turkish balladry. All this begs the question of how many other treasures are lurking in the Uzelli vaults. In the meantime, New Yorkers can catch a tantalizing show coming up on Nov 24 at 8 PM at Drom with a current Turkish psychedelic band, the ominously majestic Philadelphia-based Barakka. Cover is $10.

Turkish Star Halil Sezai’s Brooding Revolutionary Ballads Haunt the Crowd at Drom

Saturday night at Drom, Turkish crooner Halil Sezai eventually got the crowd singing along. But he didn’t do it with flag-waving Eurovision-style stadium cliches. He did it with a carefully crafted set of allusive, slow-to-midtempo ballads about revolution and the relentless stress of life in a police state, in styles ranging from moody parlor pop, to methodically crescenddoing anthems awash in minor keys, with microtonally-infused fills and solos delivered by his absolutely brilliant clarinetist. To call this music for our time is an understatement to the extreme.

Sezai sat for the duration of the show, which made sense considering that he doesn’t overemote. Although he’d build to long, resonant phrases to cap off a chorus, he sang with remarkable restraint, always seemingly holding something in reserve. Although he doesn’t have a particularly low voice, he didn’t fly up the scale, remaining grounded in his upper midrange.

Likewise, his band had a nuance matched by few rock bands. Turkish rock tends to be more informed by classical and Turkish traditional music – or in its loudest moments, European metal – than it is by comparatively simple American pop. About three songs into the set, all of a sudden a tersely swaying drumbeat entered the picture. As it turned out, the drummer had been there all along, but up to that point he’d just been adding just the ghostliest flickers of a cymbal or a rimshot.

An acoustic rhythm guitarist held a steady, emphatic forward drive while the group’s superb, eclectic pianist ranged from stately, angst-fueled neoromantic lines to a few detours toward early 80s jazz when the clarinetist switched to alto sax. The bassist would often open a song with judiciously fingerpicked acoustic guitar leads, then in a flash would put down the guitar and then hold down the lows on his four strings. The clarinetist’s volleys of tremoloing, deep-woods mystery and sometimes the macabre contrasted with the low-key sonics behind him. Botanica, and Firewater, and maybe Procol Harum came to mind, but with less emotive vocals than any of those art-rock bands.

Besides being New York’s most welcomingly intimate venue for sounds from around the globe, Drom is one of the few American clubs to regularly book Turkish rock music. There are two fantastic, very different bands there tomorrow night, Sept 30: at at 8 PM, wild accordion-driven Chilean psychedelic band Pascuala Ilabaca y Fauna are the latest stars from outside the country to make their US debut here: $15 adv tix are highly recommended. Then at 11:30 PM there’s a free show by excellent Queens rebetiko band Rebet Asker, playing dark Greek gangster and hash-smoking anthems from the 20s through the 40s.