Ali Suhail’s ‘Pursuit of Irrelevance’ is his most mature and exciting album yet
On ‘All This Time’, Ali Suhail sings: ‘‘and the cracks begin to show / in the sky i’ve always known / to be clay’. It’s not only one of the best lyrics he’s penned, but also a summary of how ‘Pursuit of Irrelevance’ feels to listen to. Concrete melodies that initially seem steadfast break apart and cave in. Every track begins to take on this feeling of precariousness, like the song could crack under it’s own weight at any moment. Pursuit of Irrelevance feels like a culmination of the past few years for Suhail, merging together his singer-songwriter acoustic folk influences with his more anxious electronic side. And while in previous albums – Desolve, for instance – this has sometimes been a uncomfortable marriage, in Pursuit it works beautifully and coherently.
If these tracks are made of clay, then Suhail is the potter, carefully and meticulously moulding each one. Take ‘Buckle’ (which, incidentally, sounds like a sequel to ‘Bogart’ from Journal Entries). One of the best tracks on the album, ‘Buckle’ is a totally bizarre and melodramatic journey, with a four-on-the-floor bassline and an almost spoken word vocal; you could mistake it as a song from a musical. Suhail throws curveball after curveball: at 30 seconds in there’s a jarring shift, like you accidentally opened another tab in your web browser with another song. But in the chaos, there’s order. The marching bass line keeps us anchored, even in a total breakdown of synth buzzes and blaring traffic horns. It’s a hallmark of Suhail’s ability as a producer to make something so odd work.
Throughout the album, Suhail seems constantly torn. In the other standout track, ‘Control’, which fizzes with energy and buzzing strings, he sings: ‘my legs pulled me in the water / she sways, pulls me to the shore’. Even in ‘Prognosis’, featuring a lovely vocal from Natasha Noorani, what initially seems like a straightforward ballad is pulled into something more loose and meandering. Awaazen, too, starts off in an upbeat poppy manner but, by the end of the song, we’re in completely different territory. Suhail says, ’maanja sab ko hai better patta’ but then immediately contradicts: ‘kyun nahin hai sub ko better patta’. This conflict seems to be the central theme in Pursuit – feeling at once deeply insecure but also quietly arrogant. The title of the album itself seems to hint at a dichotomy, with Suhail ambitiously striving towards something that he ultimately considers unattainable.
In a recent conversation we had with Suhail, he mentions that his debut album Words from Boxes, ‘was very… infantile seems like a derogatory thing to say but there was a juvenility to it…’. But it’s precisely that juvenility that gave that album such an emotional kick. Just take the beautiful ‘Lights’, for instance, where Suhail sounds totally genuine and candid, singing ‘I miss my friends’. Or the tired friendship of ‘Favours’, where the entire song feels like a soft shake of the head: ‘What can I do for you this time?’, Suhail asks, exhausted. I could go on, and it’s probably obvious that Words has been an important album for me, a surprise powerhouse of feeling.
So as Suhail’s discography has matured and he’s moved away from the ‘juvenility’ of Words, so his material has become more disengaged. And even though there are moments of vulnerability on this record, they seem a little too calculated. For instance, ‘I worry for subversion I dread for change, I worry for things you wouldn’t dare understand’, from the album’s weakest track ‘Barely’, isn’t quite as raw as the more honest moments of Words. If Words is the child, then Pursuit is the jaded parent: cleverer, but not as innocent and genuine.
But with Pursuit of Irrelevance, Suhail fully establishes himself as one of the scene’s most exciting musicians – one that is able to move easily from poppy commercial work to esoteric, alternative rock. Pursuit is an album that is desperate to do something new, something different, and it almost always succeeds.
You can listen to the album exclusively on Patari. Here’s Buckle. Enjoy.