AZITA Disturbing The Air

In recent email conversation, Azita described the magnetic pull of song writing. Discussing the long trail of attraction in her writing process, she states: “When the song is known to be a song in my awareness, it sort of sits there for a long time drawing the things that belong to it to itself like a magnet. For several years (in this case) I walk around with eight or so magnets in my awareness and they sort of sift my experiences until they each have what they need.” It’s a poetic metaphor, particularly given the subsequent magnetic force that the songs on her new album, Disturbing The Air, have on the listener. They move, both emotionally and physically, pushing you to feel things that modern song often absents from its parameters. And their force ultimately lies in their seeming disinterest in directing you to a pre-destined response. The air here is thick and full of clues, but no-one can quite find a way through the “hazy half-light.”

After a series of records where Azita has explored what can be done with song – from the barbed sonnets of Enantiodromia, through the joie de vivre of Life On The Fly, and the candle-light charms of How Will You? – she has now found a new voice with which to speak and sing, a voice that allows more uncertainty into the bargain, which negotiates the untidy complexities of the heart with grace, fully aware of the snags and traps set when humans pull together and then fall apart. With the title song serialized, it takes on the form of a seasonal compass, from the opening lines, where “Our fall here is like a spring,” and you can trace the discreet but all-important shifts in mood across Disturbing The Air through the tone and delivery of each snippet of the title song itself. Subsequently, the first few songs of the album are of a piece, tracking the development of the fall through to the “bones of September” and then on into “December dismembered / Struck off my leaves / To lay bare only memory / Stripped to my knees.”

The first significant shift in the record comes with “Stars or Fish,” where the protagonist gives their partner options – the firmament, or the fundament?

I bought you the best telescope I could afford
Because you said you wanted to look at the stars
The mildest evenings came and went
You only ever look at the ground

From here, Disturbing The Air gathers pace – or more correctly, gathers meaning, gathers metaphor under its wings, as though the romance gestured toward in the songs shifts into anthropomorphic mode. Here we have “colored fish and swathes of light”, crowns of roses, stars which “draw up my spine,” and fish which “swim past your hand.” And what is the provenance of the “First jacket of feathers” in “Say You’re the Finest”? The natural world becomes the space within which these songs act out their intricate emotional games, from scattered seedlings, through a bird’s wingspan carving the sky (there is a strong thread of ‘taking flight’ throughout the record), and also what Azita herself calls “cycle of life type stuff, seeds, leaves, darkening skies. That's deliberate. Or as deliberate as I guess any elements that belong to a picture being put in the picture would be.”

On “Ghost (When I Are You),” the spectral makes itself fully felt. Up until now a tint or half-presence among the songs, and the arrangements, “Ghost (When I Are You)” makes the implicit momentarily explicit. Few song writers have captured with such brevity and mythopoeic voice the duality of the ghost – both absent and present, both a first appearance and yet a first re-appearance, and a last first appearance. This relationship carries through into Azita’s lyrics, “Matching inside to the outside / The lack of fullness there / I recede,” before a series of negations – “No trace / No proof... No sound / No lodge” – fully extrapolate the uncanny nature of the ghostly presence, and the sense of being ‘ghosted’: both being haunted by one’s past, or by one’s prior ardor, but also being inhabited, by the sheer psychic labor of the past brought to bear on the individual, or by the way our histories become ghosts into which we can recede.

But the dark heart of the record beats through the last three songs. One, the penultimate, is also the third part of the title suite, and it speaks of confinement, a figure-eight paced by an insistent paradox: “Should I abide that thought now should I block it out... This is a very small space / A creature would have to move around in.” “Should I Be?” lists possibilities, rifling through a chiffonier of memory work, before resolving to the album’s most musically beautiful and hypnotic moment – Azita slowly inscribing potentiality around a small clutch of softly hammered chords, almost disappearing in the intimately immense silences between each note:

Who could be there but not there?
When I’m

When I’m still
When I’m here
When I’m yours
When I’m real
When I’m done
When I’m far
When I’m lost
When I’m new

Who could be there but not there?
When I’m gone
When I’m home
When I’m near
When I’m mine
When I’m known

Who could be there but not there?
When I’m to you

Who could be there but not there?
When I’m through

And the song takes to the air with each possibility, another paradox (the present absence) leading the listener into a newly hesitant emotional tonality. From ownership (yours / mine) to settling (lost / home) and beyond, “Should I Be?” explores responsibility, loss and melancholy through a set of simple, yet devastating structural devices – a becalmed question / answer that leads the singer’s tongue to indecision (“When I’m”) before tracking through a list that ties together the album’s threads.

With the closing “Keep Hymn,” Azita returns to coupling, “In a room’s hazy half-light / Where in mud-mounds we lay,” ultimately to release the themes of together and apart that define Disturbing The Air, and after the sign-off – “All the ways we hate will be gone / And we’ll see through the you and I” – she locks into pre-verbal vocalizations that glide along with an intricately played, spun-glass melody. It’s a breathtaking ending that reminds of similarly draining, personally resonant song cycles: I’m thinking particularly of Mark Hollis’s self-titled album, or Plush’s More You Becomes You. Much like those records, Azita uses the strange consort between the piano and the voice, what she refers to as the “specific resonances... which are central to the sound environment of the record,” to enfold the listener, cocoon them in the dream-logic of the lyrical forms, to the point where the songs are so enrapturing, you have to make Houdini moves to escape their clutch.

And I was caught. Disturbing The Air is an incredible set of songs, whose eloquence and beauty are riddled with contradictions. There are clear threads that run through the record – melancholy; loss; games of memory; and ultimately, being placed at a crossroads, or a point of great uncertainty, and starting cautiously to navigate one’s way out of that impasse. As Brian Torrey Scott says, “The very heart of this work finds its articulation in an inability to define.” If that definition were found, the spell would break, the bank would breach, and these songs would disappear into the darkness of the floodplain. But here they stand, proud in their nakedness, gentle in their beauty, somehow simultaneously ‘unable to define’ and yet perspicacious in their observations and their capture of the emotional coloration of everyday life.

- Jon Dale