Certain Pleas To Uncertain Figures

   I WAS WALKING down a familiar street where all color have leeched out when I saw you.

There was nothing spectacular about the setting—it was a street where all looked the same: a disjointed and desolate fantasy setting from an apocalyptic tale. Color was rare in this little corner of the word: it was slaps of terrible shades of beige over other terrible shades of beige. (I HATE THAT COLOR.)

An unlikely memory struck: the villages in Northern Egypt, with screaming pink and green three-story houses standing out defiant against bleak fawn sand and bleak fawn sky, protesting the lack of color. In the city, defiance wasn’t as nearly as widespread: the buildings jutted out into the sky in awkward angles and uncomfortable poses, like ill-fitting artificial limbs. If you didn’t know any better, you’d say Cairo was built by a little three year old kid who was playing with his building blocks (which is partially true.)

It all seemed so natural and habitual—to see you; like something second nature, something that would happen so often that I wouldn’t notice it anymore—that I hadn’t registered it was you I thought I was seeing. And with the thought of you came the realization that, no, it wasn’t you.

Stop appearing everywhere. It’s disconcerting.

You are always there. You’re floating along the tunes of a familiar song. You’re at the back of the bus on Sunday morning as that very song comes on. You’re standing beside me and waiting eagerly in the face of a tale I think you would find hilarious. I remember you and your smile and I can almost hear your voice: racing a sentence, cut off because you tumbled on a laugh, the end of a word lost. I see all of you everywhere: your laugh, your words, you smile; always there, on a Friday night by the laptop screen, or here, between the lines of a book you’ll probably never read.

Now you are here. Into the deep hours of the night as I read a book, you are here. I think of how this night wouldn’t have seemed so big or lonely if you were here. I would have talked to you, and you to me, and suddenly nothing would seem so important or so scary anymore.

I am seeing you everywhere and I am starting to wonder if I’d imagined you all along. You seem so incredibly otherworldly, so ghostly, that I am almost half-sure that I made you up. Let me let you on a little secret: I’m worried I’ll forget what you look like. I am worried that there will be a day where you will be nothing more than a figure out of a hazy dream.

It deeply perplexes me, to think that we live in the same world, in the the same city—your existence remains a puzzle to me. I am already thinking I pulled you out of a series of daydreams.

Soon, I will stop remembering how real you were. I will be almost sure that I stole you out of some tale. I’ll have to convince myself over and over that you’re there and you’re real.

And here’s another secret, too: I don’t want to forget, I don’t want to doubt, because you were the most hopeful thing I have ever come across.

Certain Pleas To Uncertain Figures

Despair In The Coffeehouse

THE CITY promised me.

I am serenading God by laser lights in a familiar square. But he doesn’t sing back. I knew that he wouldn’t; it’s just that childlike instinct carved into my cells so deep that I can’t help but acknowledge it in someone else, that instinct to cocoon into myself and feverishly whisper prayers. I whispered them on us. It didn’t work.

Somewhere, I must have a home. I must have a clear sky, a worn out place, a run down city where I run free – a city sprawling into tales and eyes and hearts, immortal with bamboo canes and little fiery wisps of what should have been. I must have a city where all my attempts to flee are gone. I must have a city asizzled by chains and bruised with young blood, shelled with golden post apocalyptic Californian revivals.

And I’m at it, again: at the catapult of this hissing electricity. I hope this city does not break you. Because sometimes, when you’re walking down a five-hundred-year-old street, the architecture just won’t do – the buildings won’t look as bewitching as they did the first time your eyes washed over them. They won’t enchant the pain away. But the darkness of the night will relieve you. All of it: dark, fulfillment, mist, heaviness. Your soul feels heavy, and your sleep isn’t hollowing your troubles anymore. It’s all so heavy, isn’t it? This feeling. This night. It’s all pressing down, down, down, and you wonder if it could press you down into a lovely, velvet sleep, or into a thick murk of an ocean. A night after happiness will become just as hollow and empty as a night after sorrow. Is it the city? Is it you? You will lose a bit of something. Did you even have it at all? Despair will hit you in the coffeehouse, when you’re looking down at your tea and the children’s laughter is ricocheting in your head, and the hollowness – nibbling away at your middle ever so tirelessly, carving you inside out – is terrifying you. What is it? The city, or you?

Maybe both.

But I know a place. A place that owes me more than the sum of the seven seas. A place where young scars call upon old scars, and where old wounds spin into new wounds – marks etched so deep into fabric that you can’t help but recognize them where blood trickles down.

This city owes me.


Despair In The Coffeehouse


Cairo strips its nightdress, the night’s phantasm swims away, and her smile is still stuck in my mind – that fiery, lively smile, absolutely ready to set everything on fire, swallowing everything in its wake.




Is it too wrong of me to want? To simply want. Want: euphoria in technicolor, lavender fields at night, secret delights in hidden corners of Paris, a forest bathing in fog, reckless ballads in moonlit courtyards, an asizzle web of diamond skylines, parades in 500-year-old cities. Want: to feel every hue, every shade, every sound, every shape, every version of feeling in this universe – to swallow it all, to drink it up whole, to fill my eyes with the crackling unseen. Everything – possible and impossible – I want it, in all its ferocity and wildness, in all its vividness and vigor. Because something is horribly disappointing and limited about my world, and I feel as if this isn’t what I signed up for – I signed up for amber streetlights soaking dark highways, I signed up for muffled laughs in old record stores, I signed up for Luxembourgian hillsides and hazy Welsh forests. I signed up for life in all of its extremes, all of its uttermosts, all of its maxuimums, all of it – to the highest, highest degree.

Yet, I continue to find binds and empty glassiness. I continue to find ceilings and non-fulfillment. And I feel horribly hollow.


Coastal Vertigo

Summer of 2010

Rose gold tinged collar

Snake skin binds

Golden shimmer suit

Diamond studded mirage

Coastal vertigo

Appealing to a millennial urge

Landing in the morning

Glassy paraders and grinning henchmen

Swelled up skies bleeding into tomorrow

Send him something covered with bloody coffin sheets and national folk songs

Chants well up shore as the parade rides through

Will Alexandria gets his blood slick hands to reflect?

That coastal vertigo

Coastal Vertigo

Ibn el Leil: A Track-By-Track Study

A few years ago, Mashrou’ Leila were the fresh-faced newcomers to the Lebanese indie scene. Now, they’re dropping what could be the most influential indie Arab record of the decade.

Ibn el Leil, Leila’s fourth album, is a metaphorical fresh take on loss, love, and Arab society dressed in electropop with shades of subtle and nostalgic Middle Eastern influences. In Leila’s previous works, although ever-evolving and advancing, there was always this meld of folk-inspired, light classical rock, and that very Leila sound – that Leilan je ne sais quoi. But in Ibn el Leil, the bands strips away any traces of its old music and paves the album with a characteristically evocative and sizzling sound and aesthetic.

Where words are concerned, Hamed Sinno – the flamboyant, sass-tinged, outspoken front man of Mashrou’ Leila – does not disappoint. Ibn el Leil pulses with vibrant lyrical magic, a result of Sinno’s canny ability to capture mundane human experience in his songwriting so vividly, so exquisitely. In Ibn el Leil, Leila’s fourth LP, he abandons the revolutionary political trademark he was so praised for and immerses the album in a more personal light. The record carries a beautiful but not too heavy purple-ish prose, with a smart play of words often spun on lyrics, metaphors woven out of faraway mythological figures.


01. Aoede – Ibn el Leil opens with Aoede  – Aoede: daughter of Zeus, one of the three original muses in Greek mythology; the muse of voice and song – a track that starts thick with funky eighties-inspired pop beats and quickly establishes itself as a misty, tranquil, dreamlike track: “Take the billow away from me,” Sinno sings, his voice almost unrecognizable in its foreign falsetto, “I am a prisoner of my mirror. Aoede! Aoede!” The violin, a very prominent figure in this record, snakes around Sinno’s vocals, ghostly and fluid, almost uncanny.

02. 3 Minutes –  Undoubtedly the most pop-like piece on the record. “Tell me who to be to please you,” Sinno sings. It’s a somewhat shocking, in-your-face number: the transition into pop isn’t slow, gentle, graceful. It’s violent and sudden and the result – 3 Minutes – leaves one confused for a moment: is this good or bad? Is this better than their old material?

But 3 Minutes is a statement track more than anything else. Leila carries their shift of genres with a blunt opening: 3 Minutes is a confident statement of change. Sinno tackles celebrity status and expectations placed upon artists,  playfully musing over what exterior the public (Arab society? Big and dominant record labels?) would like best.

03. Djinn – Continuing with that unapologetic, frank quality, Djinn is one of the darker and more sinister pieces of the album. Clever lyrics cut through gloomy music, a grim undertone of flippant self-destructiveness slithering underneath. Djinn speaks of drunken grief: it uses colorful metaphors to paint drowning one’s despair in alcohol, letting intoxication overflow anguish to the point of unconsciousness: “Berlin couldn’t stand, hand me and tear down the wall!”

04. Icarus – Poignant and bitter, and of course a contrast to its previous companion, Icarus – musically – is the most Middle Eastern track on the record. The violin is a leading figure here: it rises during the bridge as Sinno pauses between each line, nostalgically reminiscent of classical Arab songs; of Um-Kalthoum and Abd el-Halim Hafez; of that signature gesture where the singer would pause only to let the violin glide to its fanciful ups and downs before the singer charges again into his line.

05. Maghawir – The opening recalls Woodkid – A.K.A. French musician and film director Yoann Lemoine – but that’s about it. It’s theatrical and macabre, grisly and ghastly. The lyrics offer a social commentary whilst telling the story of two shootings occurring in Beirut within the same week, each resulting in the deaths of two young victims, both who were out celebrating their birthdays. In Sinno’s sharp-witted fashion, it also tackles police thuggery, authority abuse, attitudes toward Arab values such as pride and toward women in the Middle East. It slips into an addictive, dark instrumental towards the end as voices playfully echo throughout the song, “Shoop, shoop, they shot you.”

06. Kalaam (S/He) – Shadowy and cosmic, it opens with entrancing streaks of the violin, quickly slipping on a mystical feel. It addresses love, shame, taboos, and desire. “Where’s the shame in what you’re feeling,” Sinno croons, filled with sensuality. Personal and intimate, it dives in to slip into a very interesting outro, where Sinno toys around with basics of Arabic language – specifically, the feminine and masculine forms of words – to form a strange yet smart structure of lines: “Your language separates/your body separates/your language conjugates/your body conjugates.”

07. Tayf (Ghost) – Tayf runs with that bold iconic Leila defiant quality, recalcitrant and challenging. Opening with mellow and seductive clean-cut streaks of Leila’s trademark violin, Tayf quickly establishes itself as something else. From a lyrical point of view, this is the most revolutionary tune you will find in Ibn el Leil and the track the holds the most resemblance to Leila’s old words. Reminiscent of Wa Nuied (Raasük), Tayf discusses everything from homophopia and police brutality to authoritarian violence, drawing in references to poets of questionable sexualities and resistant wills for change in an environment where corruption heavily seeps.

08. Falyakon – Piano-ridden and whimsical, Falyakon is musically closer to 3 Minutes than that of the rest of the album. Falyakon offers a much needed up-jolt, and puts into melody what words cannot, and perfectly describes how you could feel happy and sad at the same time – or at least, how you could feel a projection of happiness, of false contentment. It’s hard not to sing along the catchy chorus, Sinno’s songwriting shining again in a quaint swirl of words: “Let it be, whatever is to be, I want to be, I am still standing; singing.”

09. Bint elKhandaq –  A turmoil of anger, frustration, and most of all: truths. Feels more like fiction than the rest of the songs on the record. Sinno manages to capture the unspoken struggles of many women across the Middle East, and sings of a narrative too close to the heart. The song has more indie folk in it than pop or classical rock. It’s fiercely vivid and eloquent – both lyrically and musically.

10. Asnam (Idols) – Asnam is addictive and psychedelic-esque, spinning tales of icons and holy (/public?) figures, of false illusions and glassy realities, of blind followers and mindless minions and numb henchmen. Trance-like, Sinno’s voice twirls around idols and worship: tampered, echoed; worshiped, chanted. There are different types of worship, and this track toys around exactly with that, provoking more and more intriguing notions.

11. Sadalsuud – Gather around, gather around: there is 80s electronic music, there is a beautiful, beautiful Arab-esque violin that reminds you of theme songs of Egyptian/Levantine television series of the 90s and classic stages of Um-Kalthum. Mashrou’ Leila weaves an an unexpectedly wonderful Sinno-deprived two-minute instrumental that conjures images of Beiruti historical neighborhoods, a man with Yehia El-Fakharany’s smile playing an accordion in Khan el-Khalili, and vintage Levant/North Africa. An album highlight and a slow-burner that takes time to fully and truly appreciated.

12. Ashabi (Comrades) – From haunting chants of, “Son of the night!” to chill-inducing wordsmithery (“All week around, from nine to five, we’re dying / Make me forget myself, I want to be like Beirut”) accompanied with Sinno’s grim vocals, the song could be best described as “drunk softcore electronica.” The simple delivery of vocals fits the worn out aloof quality of the song. Although it could be considered Kalaam 2.0, Ashabi doesn’t feel unoriginal nor repeated, but rather like a sequel that develops an individual sound of its own with each listen. 

From the violin to the melody, Leila captures nightlife, hollowing loneliness, and feelings that can’t be quite transmitted into language. Ashabi is simply a feeling: a lonely, hollowed-out, late-night feeling, surrounded by numb and glassy people.

13. Marrikh – Leave the best for the last. Prepare for goosebumps. Leila explores unfamiliar territories with Marrikh: the instrumental is stripped down, the violin trembles and shivers, Sinno vibrato quivers through blood, the song speaks of ups and downs and chastising hands and then finally – finally – Sinno’s voice shudders one last time before rocketing into a glorious high note. It’s sobering and raw; a mournful epilogue.

FAVORITE TRACKS: Icarus, Tayf, Maghawir, Asnam, Bint elKhandaq, Ashabi, Kalaam

LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: None (̶a̶l̶t̶h̶o̶u̶g̶h̶ ̶i̶f̶ ̶I̶ ̶h̶a̶d̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶c̶h̶o̶o̶s̶e̶,̶ ̶i̶t̶ ̶w̶o̶u̶l̶d̶ ̶b̶e̶ ̶3̶ ̶M̶i̶n̶u̶t̶e̶s̶)̶


Ibn el Leil: A Track-By-Track Study

The Flinch

“You don’t know anyone at the party, so you don’t want to go. You don’t like cottage cheese, so you haven’t eaten it in years. This is your choice, of course, but don’t kid yourself: it’s also the flinch. Your personality is not set in stone. You may think a morning coffee is the most enjoyable thing in the world, but it’s really just a habit. Thirty days without it, and you would be fine.

You think you have a soul mate, but in fact you could have had any number of spouses. You would have evolved differently, but been just as happy. You can change what you want about yourself at any time. You see yourself as someone who can’t write or play an instrument, who gives in to temptation or makes bad decisions, but that’s really not you. It’s not ingrained. It’s not your personality. Your personality is something else, something deeper than just preferences, and these details on the surface, you can change anytime you like. If it is useful to do so, you must abandon your identity and start again. Sometimes, it’s the only way. Set fire to your old self. It’s not needed here. It’s too busy shopping, gossiping about others, and watching days go by and asking why you haven’t gotten as far as you’d like. This old self will die and be forgotten by all but family, and replaced by someone who makes a difference. Your new self is not like that. Your new self is the Great Chicago Fire—overwhelming, overpowering, and destroying everything that isn’t necessary.”

The Flinch