Sevdaliza is an Iranian-Dutch electronic/triphop artist that has been making small waves on the internet ever since 2014. Her extraordinary style, a mix of FKA Twigs-influenced darkness, mysterious Iranian elements and a voice that punches you right in your gut, was quickly noticed in 2015 when she released two EPs, The Suspended Kid and Children of Silk. After the release of her first album single, Human, in late 2016, critics and fans alike were enthusiastic. When she then started dropping one stunning single after another (including equally thought-provocative visuals) it felt like something special was about to happen. And it did.
The title of the album, ISON, came to her in a dream and, unsurprisingly, that’s exactly what the album sounds like. Sevdaliza doesn’t merely write good music, she sketches entire scenes that you can easily get lost in. From dark, Middle Eastern bazaars to mysterious James Bond-esque scenes, ISON feels more like a movie rather than an album. Its main strength is its atmosphere: the rather homogeneous style of the album turns it into a very cohesive project – one that you can dive in and stay submerged in for a long period of time without ever wanting to come back up to the surface. Sevdaliza isn’t merely inspired by contemporaries such as the previously-mentioned FKA Twigs, Jorja Smith and Kelela, she at times surpasses them with grace. Take for example Bluecid, one of the album’s highlights. On the backdrop of rumbling 808s, a haunting piano loop and even a Flamenco guitar solo, Sevdaliza creates a vivid dream or perhaps even a nightmare. She doesn’t just create this dream though – she forces you to be a part of it. It’s an asphyxiating experience, one that feels terribly uncomfortable and claustrophobic yet incredibly alluring and mystical at the same time too. Listening to this album at times almost feels like you’re doing something wrong – the type of experience in which your mind tells you that you need to hide because you’re witnessing something that you’re not allowed to see. And yet, Sevdaliza wants you to see all of it. It’s disarming.
Now, this is not to say that ISON is a perfect album. With a length of almost 66 minutes and a handful of fillers, ISON mixes songs that Portishead wishes it had written with boring, seemingly never-ending pieces of Dexter background music. What ISON does show, however, is that Sevdaliza is an artist with massive potential and one that has the right team behind her. The productions, all composed by Dutch producer Mucky, are gorgeous, simultaneously austere and lush, and often remind of artists such as Arca and Ash Koosha. Vocally, Sevdaliza shines as well, as her voice effortlessly compliments the dark basses and the eerie strings of the album. Lyrically, at times, the album feels a tad shallow but it just takes one listen to album opener Shahmaran or the equally-stunning Hubris to realize that you’re dealing with a very special artist.
There’s one major issue with ISON though: its length. 66 minutes of sinister ballads with similar vocal performances over and over is simply too much. Whereas the first few songs may blow you off your feet, Sevdaliza recycles a similar recipe on almost every song and whereas the songs near the backhand of the album aren’t necessarily worse than the songs of the first half, they do feel that way. There are definitely some songs on ISON that could have and should have been scrapped such as Marilyn Monroe and Replacable whereas tracks such as Love Way and Angel needlessly go on for way too long. Had this been changed, ISON would’ve been a year-end list album for certain. It’s nevertheless a very strong debut album from a very promising artist that certainly deserves the recognition it didn’t fully receive.