Omar El Abd just released his second album on French label Eilean Records, so we take a listen...
We first covered self-taught musician Omar El Abd, aka “Omrr,” soon after the February release of his debut album The Quiet Ones, which garnered high praise from the Egyptian underground scene due to El Abd’s lush sonic combinations of ambient music and noise-rock influences. A little over nine months later, and after a near tripling of his online following, El Abd has breached the silence with the release his sophomore album, distributed through French electronic/electro-acoustic label Eilean Records. Composed between 2015 and 2016, Music For The Anxious represents a "year’s projection of intimate encounters, imaginary stories and unnecessary drama” for the young producer, and plays out more like an abstract art-project than a traditional album. El Abd has given the album a colour scheme, “orange/brown/yellow,” and has closely associated the album with the season of August. Given the largely somber and mellow nature of the project, El Abd’s spacious productions seem like a perfect fit for these cold months where winter draws ever closer.
The opening cut, This City Lies, begins with sporadic strummed guitars covered with a heavy delay effect over a thick drone of muddy synthesizers and lo-fi white noise. From the get-go, El Abd’s establishes his signature sonic motifs that will be present throughout the rest of the album; in the foreground faint chords, blips and one shots swell in and out of the mix, while in the background vocal samples and ambient noise ensure that there is no instrumental stagnation over the length of the record. The second track, Impeccable (She Likes Tulips), is less murky and more focused than its predecessor, with a soft electric piano resonating clearly over a base of dark synthesizers and constant glitching noise effects. While initially somber in instrumentation, a major emotional shift occurs around the middle of the composition, where the music fades out and gives way to a cheerful arpeggiating marimba-like synthesizer. Faint wooden and metallic percussion set a steady groove in this segment, though El Abd never lets the listener get in too comfortable a mood as he contrasts the upbeat transition with inharmonious chord swells. Similarly, in the first few moments of the third track, Sins And Wine, El Abd immediately puts you on edge by replicating what I can best describe as that high-pitched clicking sound your phone produces when an aux cord isn’t plugged in properly, and it works to great effect. The guitar which first appeared on This City Lies makes a return here, as does the electric piano, which serves as an emotional centerpiece while 808 kicks and distorted wobble basses nicely fill out the low end of the spectrum.
Over the course of Music For The Anxious, it becomes very clear that El Abd has thrown conventional song structure out the window, and instead plays upon the expectations of the listener. For example the title of fourth track on the album, Nymphomania, is somewhat misleading as the track isn’t really sexy at all; dispersed chords and distorted bass wobbles shatter initial conceptions, and make the track seem hazy with conflicted emotion, while the lead synthesizer makes a nice melodic counterpoint the massive distorted ‘wall of sound’ that El Abd slowly builds.
A particular highlight of the record is definitely the opening segment of the sixth track Nataly, where a jazzy and lullaby-esque piano takes center stage in the mix. El Abd’s abrasive sampling is best utilized here, and on the fifth track, November, though its cacophonous opening, comparable to the sound of industrial machinery or your grandmothers fax machine, may be initially jarring to some listeners. The album closes with The Rise And Fall Of Caro, a cavernous ambient cut that's by far the lavish track on the entire project, and is the moment where all the pent up emotion of it’s predecessors finally reaches catharsis.
By its very nature Music For The Anxious is bound to be a divisive project, and while El Abd’s technical and compositional abilities are evident through his work, by breaking the conventional rules of tonality and song structure he disorients you in the most thrilling and unexpected ways. Ambient music is definitely a niche as far a genres go, but if the purpose of all art is to evoke emotion, then Music For The Anxious does this expertly.