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Now Hear This: The Blind Owl - Delusive Relics

Rating: ****

The first thing most music reviewers do is reach for a genre to put the artist in a box. Sometimes, however, a new slab resists easy categorization. Delusive Relics, a duo based in New Hampshire (!) by way of Iran (!!!), has enough going on in their knowing mix of Depeche Mode gloom and Middle Eastern soundscapes that they defy any critic to put a handle on them.

By their own description, their sound is a combination of “synthpop, industrial, EBM, and electronic rock.” Add to that some haunting vocals by Farhoud Nik and Anis Oveisi (with stellar guest vocals by B-Astre and Venessa Hale), and you have a rich musical stew.

Put all THIS in the service of a nearly 100-year-old Iranian novel called “The Blind Owl” by Sadeq Hedayat, and you have a concept album that bears repeated listenings.

The source novel. which was at one time banned in Iran for, among other things, leading to a number of suicides, is the story of “a young man [who] drifts into despair and madness after losing a mysterious lover.” So, a ‘fun’ album it’s not.

That caveat aside, the eight songs on “The Blind Owl” contain some of the most interesting music I’ve come across in a long time. The vibe is established in the first track, “Writing For My Shadows.”

A simple, repetitive piano figure underscores a soft haunted vocal, but then about a minute in we break out the funhouse mirror and are hit by a loose trip-hop beat and instead of singing, weird and ominous laughter. Then, we’re back to the more contemplative feel of the opening.

In fact, most of the album veers between skittering drum loops and acoustic piano chords, which makes for an interesting contemporary backdrop to an old story.

The centerpiece for the disc, “”Mortician,” grabs you immediately with a thudding bass loop, and builds its tension from there. Somehow, “Mortician” is both gloomy AND catchy.

The piano / synth parts have more power than those instruments usually bring to the stage. Particularly in the closing two tracks (“Shades of Owl” and “Becoming Old Man Dealer”), the keys punctuate the air like so many knives. And again, the vocals are certainly evocative.

If I were to quibble here, it would be with the lyrics. Sometimes they’re just clumsy, and sometimes bland (especially hen compared to the pointed music). I cn’t help but think that some of this ‘clumsiness’ is just a matter of nuance being ‘lost in translation.’ It would be great to hear a musical project by this duo in which the various singers tackled this story in its original language.

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