The delightful Chrissy (Hi, Chrissy!) over at a PR firm that shall remain nameless (hint: it sounds exactly like “Luck Media & Marketing Inc”) quite generously sent me an album to listen to. Thanks, Chrissy.
The album is called Shine, and it’s by a chap called Sharif Iman (Hi, Sharif!).
What usually happens when somebody presents me with a bit of new music is that I put on my Concentrating Ears (and a pair of headphones), listen intently, and make impertinent comments about what I’m listening to. I try to listen to an album all the way through at least three times before being impertinent – but if I hear something interesting or unusual along the way, then I tend to pounce on the keyboard and type furiously.
I managed to listen to Shine once all the way through before making any notes (pun definitely unintended). I pounced on the keyboard during the second and third listens. (Almost made it.)
Incidentally, you may not be interested in any of my opinions and just want to listen to the tracks. Fair enough. After all, I’m not The Grand Arbiter Of Music. (At least, I hope I’m not. It would be horrible if everyone, everywhere, agreed with me. Or you, for that matter. Can you imagine everyone listening to exactly the same music all the time? Ugh.) But I’m going to offer my opinions anyway. Feel free to ignore them.
Before I played you any songs, I wanted to describe what kind of music Sharif performs to give you an idea of what you’re letting yourself in for before you press “play”. I found that a bit difficult, because I don’t quite know what I’d call it. There was a blurb that came with the CD, so I had a quick look at that for some clues. (I’m not much of a blurb reader – I prefer to let the music do the talking.) In it, Sharif was described as an “AC” artist. Now, I’m not really “up” with all that young-folk music industry lingo, so I was a bit mystified by this thing called “AC”. I wondered… does it mean Alternative Country? There are a lot of those artists around at the moment, so I thought it might mean that. Or maybe it means Awfully Courageous? Acting Coy? Always Cooking? Or maybe even Anti-Christmas? (Well, you never know – Sharif may hate Christmas.) But when I read the blurb properly, I discovered that “AC” means Adult Contemporary. Who knew? (Not me, that’s who.)
[Pointless pondering in parentheses: If there’s an Adult Contemporary category, I wonder if there’s also something called Contemporary Adult – or even Temporary Adult. Do people go online nowadays looking for Temporary Adult records?]
Just before we get to the music itself (“At last!” I hear you shout), I want to mention something in the blurb that momentarily confused me. At one point in the text, Sharif is described as “The Once Homeless Performer”. I guess it’s to emphasise one of those pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps stories. Unfortunately, I thought it said “The Once Hopeless Performer”. (If he was, then he’s improved a lot.)
OK. Here we go…
Track 1 – “Feel Me”
I thought it made the most sense to play you Sharif’s musical calling card first. After all, it’s the opening track, and that theoretically let’s the listener know who you are. (As in: “Hi! My name’s Sharif, and this is what I sound like.”)
Track 6 – “In Love”
Although I thought that this song would help build up a picture of what Sharif sounds like, the main reason I wanted to play you this particular song is because I wanted to let you know about something I found in it that I thought was bizarre. (I always get excited when I discover little bizarre things in songs.) But first, I’ll let you know about the percussion. There’s a fairly quiet but rather hyperactive drumbeat that starts at 0:56. Unfortunately, it was just a little too hyperactive for my liking. Then a low quick repetitive thud (sort of like a doof-doof, but ultrafast) joined that drumbeat at 1:10 and rather disconcertingly kept on going. Unfortunately for me, that low quick thud sounds like someone’s heartbeat in overdrive, as if they’re having an anxiety attack because a doctor had attached electrocardiogram electrodes to them in order to monitor their heartbeat. And there was some other percussion in this track that I found a little unsettling. Also, at the end of a heartfelt vocal effort during the song there was what I thought was the sound of applause (starting at 1:39). This was way before the song finished. Applause? Half-way through a song? After a bit of singing? I reacted against that, thinking “Yuck – how self-congratulatory.” But listening to it again, I discovered that the sound was actually something more like castanets, not applause. Oops. Sorry about that, Sharif. Now, before I try your patience even more, and put you off the idea of reading the rest of this rambling commentary, there is just one more thing about the track that I want to point out. It’s the thing I mentioned all those words ago. Admittedly, it is minor, but I find it too weird not to mention. From 0:56 to 1:01, Sharif sings “Well, I can feel you gettin’ close, and that’s too much for me.” It’s in this line that the weirdness occurs. At 0:58 Sharif sings “that’s”, and it sounds very, very odd. It’s sort of like Auto-Tune (where the pitch shifts very quickly), but not exactly. I have a ghastly feeling that it’s a clumsy edit. (I hope it’s not. I hope it was deliberate, and Sharif put it there just so people like me could find it and go “What was that?”) Actually, I’ll stop talking about it and just show you that vocal line, the one that contains the strange, strange “that’s” so you can hear for yourself:
[the line with the weird sound]
And the weirdness continues. Just seven seconds later (at 1:05), there’s another vocal oddity with the word “why” when Sharif sings the next line: “Starin’ a hole through my heart, baby why can’t you let me be”…
[the next line]
Very odd. Maybe those weirdo sounds were deliberate. I don’t know. But it’s all weirdin’ me out, man.
Track 7 – “Love You Till”
There are some ballads on the album, and this is one of them. (Well, you can’t have every song on an Adult Contemporary album fist-pumpingly up-tempo. Can you?) I wanted to play you this particular ballad to point out Sharif’s singing. It’s awfully good.
Track 8 – “New York”
Back to an up-tempo (and, judging by the way Sharif’s singing, “uplifting”) song. It may give you an idea that a lot of Sharif’s songs have anthemic choruses. That would be the correct idea, because a lot of Sharif’s songs do indeed have anthemic choruses.
Track 11 – “That Girl”
A boppy little number. And that’s all I’m going to say about this song, because I want to actually finish this post.
If asked to point out the plusses about this album, I’d say this in an instant: “The vocals.” For the kind of album this is, and the kind of singing required for it, I think that Sharif’s vocals (main and background harmonies) are flawless (except for that weird edit in track 6). I liked Sharif’s singing more than anything else on the album. It’s what I found most interesting about it. He does have a habit of occasionally employing the currently fashionable vocal “catch” (where the singer breaks his or her voice ever so slightly at the start of a word to sound more emotional), which is something I don’t like at all, but he doesn’t do it often. (Well, not often enough for me to scream out loud “No! Make it stop!”) It’s in keeping with things Sharif sings about (i.e., emotional things).
As for the negatives… Well, there was really only one for me, and that was the music itself. It’s not really my bag, so to speak. (Now I can say that I know what Adult Contemporary music sounds like.) I can hear – and appreciate – the talent and effort that went into making the album, but, courtesy of my tastes in music, it left me with a small feeling of “Meh”. The songs were all expertly performed and produced, but as to the songs themselves, none of them grabbed me in any particular way. But that says more about what I like in music rather than any shortcomings on the part of Sharif’s album. To which I’d like to stress: there aren’t any shortcomings on Sharif’s album. (Except for the weirdness in track 6.)
OK. To put all of the above in the textual equivalent of a soundbite, I’ll give you a one-sentence summary, and I’ll try not to make this sound like damning with faint praise:
“For the kind of album it is, it’s very good.”
Oh, by the way: whilst listening to Sharif’s album I found a musical coincidence. Now, because this post is already far too long, I’ll save it for another day. In the meantime, you’ll probably need to stop staring at your computer screen, take a deep breath, stretch your legs, and go out and enjoy some fresh air.