The latest press photo from the Iran-born, London-based producer Ash Koosha depicts his face as a fractured visage, bursting from its center in broken shards. It’s as if you’re looking at the producer (real name: Ashkan Kooshanejad) through a shattered lens—and it’s a apt metaphor for the life the that he’s led, for his perspective on music, and for his resulting productions. Escaping artist repression (including a short stint in prison) in his home country and finding asylum in London, his creative years have effectively been split in two; he’s also endowed with synesthesia (he's said that he can “see” sound), leading him to think of music as jagged entities, ripe for analysis and manipulation. Making his debut on Ninja Tune with I AKA I—his debut album, GUUD, came out on the Olde English Spelling Bee label just last year— Kooshanejad makes music that’s both familiar and remote, with its patterns broken apart and rearranged into thrilling, sometimes barely recognizable new forms.
As with GUUD, Kooshanejad’s role seems to be something like that of an alchemist; he disassembles the music we know, messes around with the parts, and reassembles them into constructions that might still retain the architecture of the original…or might not. The starting points, as least when those points are discernible, include Jamaican rhythms and hip-hop, along with various strains of classical and pop, both from the West and his native East. Kicking off with throbbing, tuned bass drum, manipulated hand percussion and a short sample of what could be a zurna, “Mudafossil” kicks off as something akin to Middle Eastern folk music—but before long, Kooshanejad takes that familiar rhythm and wraps it around low-end rumbles and cutting squelches, adding new layers to the track’s cabalistic feel. The languorous “Ooh Uhh” is a wistful lounge tune as heard from afar though layers of thick haze, slowly dissipating into the ether; “Biutiful” has a synthpop-goes-to-the-carnival vibe, its beckoning piano floating between churning breakbeats and a sinewy, slightly disorienting melodic counterpoint.
Sometimes, Kooshanejad’s aptitude for manipulating sounds and rhythms can get the better of a song. A track like “In Line,” with its rhythmic stutters and whiplash sonics, is certainly an impressive showcase for his studio maneuvers, but probably won’t end up on heavy replay on any but the most adventurous playlists—it could prove a bit overwhelming for most listening circumstances. Some of the best moments on I AKA I are when the producer plays it relatively straight. “Ote,” for instance, is his version of digital dancehall, albeit a version of that sound with the crunchiest of crunchy kicks and the squiggliest of squiggly ornamentation; the lullaby-esque “Eluded” both soothes and aggravates, like a comforting blanket marred by bits of fraying acrylic; and the beat-free “Growl,” despite the name, is a gorgeous slice of neoclassical ambience, with just a hint of menace lurking beneath its lush instrumentation. Word is that Kooshanejad’s plan is to refashion I AKA I into a virtual-reality album to be viewed using Oculus Rift headsets—and given the nature of his music-as-geometry artistic vision, we can’t think of many producers who’d be better suited for that task.
Album art: Negar Shaghagh