We keep hearing that the world is becoming an ever smaller place. Most people take that to mean that things such as travel and technology are making us more connected, more accessible, more globe-trotting. But for me, the most interesting aspect of the concept is the merging and creative collision of cultures which goes with this modern, more fluid, world. As people move around in ever increasing numbers, through choice or perhaps otherwise, they take their cultures and traditions with them but also adopt new ones, they wrap their old hearts in modern other trappings. These are the “hyphenated people.”
Ali Aslam fully admits that he is one of the hyphenated people, a Muslim-American, Pakistani-America etc and his latest album, The Last American is a soul-searching quest for what such terms might actually mean. It is a quest not only to understand his place in the world and how others might view him, it is a journey to his own heart and soul to find out what that actually means to him personally.
With a string of singles laying the way towards this release, it is This American Dream which is the perfect sonic stepping stone into the album; a deft blend of folk finesse and a more urgent, indie energy, clever dynamics and beguiling string washes. Here Aslam muses on what the American Dream might actually be and perhaps how relevant it is to those who don’t fit some peoples idea of what American even looks like. It’s a song which sets the tone perfectly, both in sonic style and lyrical topics.
Refugee blends anticipation and understatement, promising explosive dynamic breaks which never quite come and holding the listener closer because of it, getting to the emotional heart of people who have been displaced and on the move through no fault of their own. Seasons Change Without Permission, like many of his songs, is full of Springsteen-esque musical punctuation, that blend of drama and restraint which the likes of Antonio Lulic was always so great at tapping into, and Brave is a insular and enticing slice of brooding, alt-folk. Sophia, which rounds the album off is a gorgeous dedication to a daughter who hopefully will grow up in a more accepting times.
The Last American is an album perfect for these times; Ali Aslam is an artist perfectly of these times. Through this album he explores the ever changing social landscape of a country often struggling to come to terms with the modern world, and does so with the eye of an outsider.
Use the term, American Music, and people’s minds conjure images of Nashville stages and country crooning, songs about pick-up trucks and heading out on the open road beneath those infamous big skies. Perhaps it is time to forget all that, there is more truth to be found in one of Ali Aslam’s songs about the America of today than in the whole classic country music back-catalogue.