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Yusif!: Self-Titled Debut Album

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Release date(s): Oct. 9
Our Rating: 3/5
Spec Recs:Underdog,” “Come on Down” 
In one word: Determined

Kuwaiti-American songwriter Yusif! nationally releases Yusif! this week. The debut album from the Seattle-based artist is about his double cultural life. Yusif! was so eager to have an album, he was able to do it before he had a band. With the help of friends armed with instruments and stories from growing up surrounded by the Gulf War, Yusif! has put together an album full of powerful personal tales and straightforward personal philosophies. I’ve recommended “Come on Down,” which I’m not crazy about, but the story behind it is extremely powerful.

[pullquote]”My parents used to brew alcohol while I was in high school, and it was kind of a dark time in my life […] I would steal their rancid, disgusting homemade wine, which they had to brew at home and hide in the closet because in Kuwait booze is illegal […] It’s very, very taboo in Kuwaiti society to have premarital sex, It would be my dad’s behind on the line if the girl’s father found out. He would then want to attack my father […] It’s a big deal. It’s a very different culture. It’s the girl’s reputation and the girl’s dad’s reputation that gets tarnished, their family name is damaged.” – YusifMusic[/pullquote]

Musically speaking, the songwriting on this album is pretty simple. Lyrically, each song is in its own world. This is meant as a compliment since Yusif! was the only wordsmith on the album.

There’s one thing you can’t ignore about this guy — his voice. It’s… unique. After I got over the initial introduction, I found his bold, nasaly projection to be quite refreshing. I can think of more than a handful of songwriters who also tote unusual voices. In world where the level of entry to becoming a musician becomes lower and lower (I’m referring to the accessibility to instruments and recording), using your unique voice at the forefront of your sound can actually be a huge advantage. Just think of Joanna Newsom, Tom Waits, John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, that creepy kid voice used by Adam Price, Satomi Matsuzaki of Deerhoof, and for modern ears, we can go ahead and stick Edith Piaf in this group. When your instrument can’t be swapped out like a guitar, you have to use what you got. Showmanship, a connection with the audience, and passion, are far more important than clear vocal quality.

Song: Underdog

If Yusif! can deliver on stage the same passions and anthems that are currently in his lyrics, I think this young songwriter can do great things. He traveled for over half a year only doing solo work at open mic nights, so if he is able to, pardon the rough term, throw together an album without the advantage of tweaking and allowing songs to evolve with a band, I would call this debut a success. It shows that he can delegate and has clear visions for his work. And as time goes by, I am confidant he will find a band and instrumentation that best suits his pipes. Right now, the electric guitar-heavy tracks plus his voice just have too much of the same thing.

The current post on Yusif’s blog claims his fall tour includes “Yusif and Sarah.” There is a female on “Cosmic Symphony (track 9), so perhaps she will be joining Yusif!. It also looks like the two will be traveling with a PA and backing tracks. I’ve only seen this done once with someone who would have otherwise had a more traditional band. It will be interesting to see if they can pull it off. Backing tracks will save you money, but they don’t allow for personalization of songs or growth with each performance. A band isn’t just important to have on stage, it’s a collaboration and a support group. You can find out what happens at one of his two Arizona dates: Nov. 30 at Fiddler’s Dream in Phoenix or Dec. 2 at  The Rogue Bar in Scottsdale.


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