Xela Zaid’s Orange Violet – the varied beauty of music on the fringes of conventional aesthetics

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In the first ever article I wrote for The Music and Myth, I explained that I created this blog in order to spread the word about quality music and to discover more of it along the musical and literary journey on which I have embarked. A couple of weeks ago I’ve been fortunate enough to come across the work of Miami musician Xela Zaid, the best solo musician according to the  Miami New Times. His EP, Orange Violet, is classified as “live experimental” on Soundcloud and everyone who knows me is aware that I have an interest in everything that can be considered “experimental music”. The problem is that, most of the time, it’s just someone playing guitar with their car-keys, someone blowing on a bass with a hair-dryer or someone who borrowed Tom Waits’ “Conundrum” for shock-value. The thing is that in order for such music to successfully transmit its message, the aspect that is considered “experimental” has to begin at the cerebral stage, the stage of structure and composition, and only then glissade towards the actual performance.

As an example of a well-imagined and well-executed work I present: Orange Violet. This collection of songs has been on a constant loop on my PC speakers for a few days now, and with each new “loop” I feel like I discover a new aspect of this mesmerizing music.

Let me get this out straight-off the bat: this isn’t “comfortable” listening, at least not at first. Thankfully, I say, because I’ve found that when it comes to art (and make no mistake this music is created to be art rather than mere entertainment), often times quality and the notion of “comfortable” are mutually exclusive. What is comfortable to listen to was probably also far too comfortable to produce, and most of the time that shows.

Then again, Xela Zaid makes little effort to make the experience easy on the listener, opting instead to start his EP with the most immediately unsettling and viscerally unnerving song of the bunch, “Whitney Whispers”. This track serves as a good way to sift the audience in order to instantly separate the easily-intimidated from those who opt to join the musician on his raw and honest journey of self-expression.

After the initial fight-or-flight response, those astute enough to entrust their ears are delighted to find themselves rapidly hypnotized by the mantra-like repetition of an indiscernible, near-alien voice. Accompanying it is the otherworldly and magnetic, almost confrontational background noise from which the artist’s own voice, an ethereal cry, emerges as if to guide the listener through this multi-faceted musical plane. The audience is then greeted with the sound of an harmonica, which flows right into the next song “Soft Sleep”, that sounds exactly as the title suggests. Everything dissipates leaving only the soothing notes of the harmonica, notes that introduce the singer’s voice, revealed in spell-like form. Again, the musician distances himself from conventional aesthetics as his underground ingenuity and his daring dissonance aim to cause unfiltered and unconstrained emotional reactions. “Twelve” follows with an eerie but at the same time calming sound that has an an “underwater” feel. The ghostly chords of the guitar are surprisingly gentle and suggest an endearing  frailness.

The next two songs, Santa Fe and Sprout, make for an extraordinary line-up and, to me, represent the highlight of this stellar EP. Santa Fe starts with a growling bassline over which the singer’s intentionally uneven singing and howling manages to sound incredibly melodious as the voice seems to purposefully fight the growing noise around  it. The fragile but confident voice, trembling in all the right places, reminded me greatly of the tramp in Gavin Bryar’s Jesus Blood and I feel like it manages the same type of impact. This feels like the flagship song of the EP and its effectiveness is greatly increased by the fact that it’s followed by easily the most melodious and instantly catchy track, namely “Sprout”. The haunting and lovely chords feel liberating after the heavy bass of the previous track as the two songs admirably potentiate each other and are important factors in making you want to continuously return to this music. “Outward” is a soft and reflective ( if a tad too low-key) guitar piece to conclude this well-executed album.

Orange Violet stands out as one of those rare sparks of modern musical brilliance which can be found only in art that is at the very fringes of what anyone can consider mainstream. Twenty-first-Century troubadour Xela Zaid (whose entertaining audio-visual live performance you can enjoy on Squelch TV – and please do have a look, it pisses me off that this only has a hundred and something views) offers a sentimental exploration of sound that is sincere and straightforward.

This twenty-two minute long EP is a testament to the varied beauty that we can find if we just turn off our goddamned radios and start paying attention to what is really happening on a music scene that is as vast and diverse as the minds and experiences of the people shaping it. Embrace this varied beauty and you will be rewarded with works that reveal to you the very essence of music, works like Orange Violet. Highly recommended by The Music and Myth.

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