Uprooted: Major New Work From Minor Empire
Paul Corby ~ Corby’s Orbit ~ Radio Regent Toronto
Over the past six years, since their first album, Second Nature, won awards and accolades from a fascinated Canadian and international audience, the hands and hearts of Ozgu Ozman and Ozan Boz have been dedicated to fashioning a new transmission from the musical world they share as Minor Empire.
And so, a new suite of songs, Uprooted, arrives this month, and it is a progression into new territories of elegant melody drifting over crackling dramatic landscapes of electronic pulsation. At the vanguard of Turkish-based music here in Canada, the duo has developed a unique mutualism that melds charismatic singing with the dark crystalline architecture of contemporary electro-funk.
Throughout the record, modified vibrations emanate from Ozan’s guitar and intensely programmed sonic stylings, creating icy spatial realms, and periodically startling effects. These sounds inter-react with the unwinding incandescence of Ozgu’s vocal intaglios and the exotic acoustic tones of Patrick Graham’s taiko, bata, davul, darbuka, bendir and cymbals. Toronto’s Michael Occhipinti brings solar winds and shady breezes to his guitar imaginings and the sobbing bass of Chris Gartner underpins Ozgu’s sensual laments with an urgent organic intensity.
As the shamanic focus of the band, vocalist / lyricist Ozgu Ozman again reaches across the geography of her homeland, selecting techniques of expression from the vast vocabularies of the Balkan, Black Sea and other variegated Turkish cultures, and intuiting those which will translate traditional tropes into the vivid colours and desperate anguish of today’s nation. All are wound into a perfume of trills, glissandi and flights of improvisation that guide the listener along her sensually hypnotic harmonic pathways.
The prelude, Dünya / The World, comes shimmering in from a distance with Ozgu conjuring the rebirth of the world from her desire for just “a glimpse of your smile”. Its rich texture sets the tone for the theme of spiritual / romantic renewal that underpins the whole album. Echoes web the electric spaces framing the title track Yurtsuz / Uprooted. Rhythm cascades create arcs and arches for the wandering narrator to escape through into new worlds. The lyric describes the pilgrimage of a liberated spirit into the perilous new territory of freedom.
“In the nooks of this foreign world
I fooled myself with this dream of a life”
Central to the mood of the record is the theme of the disturbance of tranquility. The unnatural effect of being uprooted, this particular distress of the heart is the focus of the traditional songs that follow. In İki Keklik / Two Partridges, the dilemma of a passion which searches for an eternal beyond is mirrored in the patient heartbeat of the rhythm, while the melody explores blue-tinted questions of security and sincerity. And in Ağ Elime Mor Kınalar Yaktılar / They Put Henna in My Young Hands, the innocence of love is cut off by the hierarchies of tradition. Chambers of reverberating guitar, odd meters and quizzical electronic effects distort the simplicity of the melancholy narrator, and attempt to subvert her resolution, until, after a meditative kanun acoustic passage, she rallies with a hope for a better chance at fulfillment.
Bahar / Spring, with a brief prelude of galvanized guitar drone entitled Seeds, brings a tidal rush of optimism at the midpoint of the album’s arc, which travels a path through stages of longing, questing for love, peace, and reunion. At each new bridge, Ozgu’s melody floats, restless but steadfastly expanding, over the turbulence of the relentless orchestration that surges and swirls beneath. Then the light of the sun, in Güneş Türküsü / Sun’s Song irradiates the listener with the rays of a sixties rock ballad. A slippery instrumental passage takes chromatic risks but ultimately delivers the vocalist to a new height of confidence.
The imperial tone of the intro to Green Handkerchief and reversion to a melodic minor key reprises the inevitable interference pattern that returns again to supplant the growth that the singer has been nurturing with complications. İstanbul’dan Üsküdar’a Yol Gider / Road From Istanbul to Uskudar begins the pilgrimage through a harsh landscape of fragmented emotions that wander from horror to helplessness as the world becomes too real and still more confusing to the spirit. A tone of lamentation then overcomes our troubadour as she casts her thoughts homeward over alternately sparkling and apocalyptic guitar in Selanik Türküsü / Song of Thessaloniki and towards an attempt to balance resistance with an acceptance of destiny in the languid lyrics of Uyuttum Atları / I Lulled Horses to Sleep:
“I gave the world my dreams
and they wanted to take my life.”
At the end of this cycle, there is only one destination left, as Tutam Yar Elinden / Wish I Could Take Your Hand, resolves in the intuited peace that welcomes her beyond the confines of memory and earthly strife. Her voice fades into the ascending guitar and rises on waves of clattering drums into a new space, with, hopefully, roses and peace and a decisive final clarity.
Uprooted takes the listener on a voyage of imagination. Always fearlessly rising, Minor Empire provides lush musical scenery and never succumbs to the perils of disaster and despair and doubt which plague those who remain rooted in the temporal plane, but persist towards another world that holds the promise of true soul nourishment, and a new home for hungry roots.