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In 1978 an unknown band called Shen founded by Kaveh Hashemi, began
making some of the most powerful music evoking the feeling of what
eventually became a tumultuous time in Iran's history.
The music scene in Tehran, influenced by a decade long flood of
western culture, was exploding in every direction. Shahram and Ebi
battled Googoosh over complex Salsas and shiny brass trios, while the
every-cool-man guitar ballads of Kourosh Yaghmaie cut you to shreds with
"Goleh Yakh" (Ice-Flower), and as the dominance of Disco peaked and
slowly began to fade, leaving a well of emotion-filled 70's Rock-Pop to
fill the void.
Iranian bands picked up the mantle and challenge and began to explore
the creative freedom that the era and the music demanded, no, screamed
Shen wrote some of the most amazing music of that time, but before it
had the chance to really explode, the revolution skipped like a
tragically bad scratch on your favorite record, and shattering the
needle in the process.
Recently the long thought long lost collection of Shen songs has
resurfaced and not surprisingly, they sound as fresh and as relevant as
...OK, I really have to stop this charade right now, because none of
this is actually true. There was no band called Shen in the 70's. Even
though there should have been.
Shen is a modern day, Montreal-based Rock-Pop band that I have recently
discovered, and the latest fodder for my never ending quest for new
Iranian music. Thankfully, my quest is now on pause for the moment, as I
proceed to devour this new discovery, Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, Linner,
Dinner, and Supper.
Listening to these songs, Shen certainly feels as comfortable as a long
lost Iranian band from the 70's Tehran era. if there was one. And
although band founder Kaveh Hashemi is most certainly real, and the
genius behind this new genus of Iranian popular music, back in 1977 he
was too busy deftly dribbling a soccer ball during zang-e-tafreeh
(doesn't that sound so much more fun than "recess"?) to be too concerned
with his other hobby, the guitar.
Now that Kaveh has grown up, he has put away the right one of those
childish things, and not only kept playing the guitar, but has expanded
to full on composer status with deep sweeping songs of emotion and
The album I am most pleased to see and review is a new album, a
re-release of "The Best of Shen 2006-2011 Songs of Love and Protest". I
am so relieved to see this album because all too often when a group
creates a large body of work like this, that spans several years of
writing, naturally, you have your favorite songs off each album. The
selection on this album though, is beyond superb. The song list is so
well-thought out and this album plays so incredibly well from start to
finish, with just enough slow songs in between the faster ones to keep
you interested. Yet it leaves the original albums intact as individual
works that stand up well on their own right.
The best way I can describe Shen music is Symphonic. This isn't the
usual indy guitar, a bass guitar, and some drums to round it off. The
layers of sheer music you get for the mere price of listening, is more
than a bargain. A mix between the incredibly complex sound of a Tears
for Fears, a Pink Floyd, a Bowie, a Queen, with a little bit of ELO and
Eagles now and then, as appropriate "Mazzeh" to the session you're
sitting in on.
Hashemi's vocals are intriguing and haunting, and his range is
surprisingly precise and purposeful. Iranian music isn't normally this
raw and emotional and vulnerable. A cross between Al Stewart, Curt
Kobain, Eddie Vedder, and especially Nick Drake come to mind.
The first song "Asheghaa Penhoonan" (Hidden Lovers) is a great kick off
song, because it is unlike any song you've ever heard, but best
exemplifies what the rest of the ride is going to be like, namely a deep
plunge into cool, dark, and salty water, that stings your eyes at
"Shansi Chand Taa Kish" (A Few Lucky Checks) is my personal favorite
because it is a simple melody that is brought to greatness by powerful
lyrics. The words are moves one might make on a Chess (Shah, Malakeh,
Asb, Fil, Sarbaz, Ghal-eh) and Backgammon (Joft Panj Joft Shish) game,
that evoke the profound realization that regardless of how well we might
play the game, "Ghodrat Dasteh Kesi Digast" (power is in someone else's
The opening lines "Shah-o-Malakeh, Hamash Kalakeh" or "Sarbazeh Sadeh,
Jelo-Ghal-e-Vaysadeh" draw both a picture of the king, queen, pawn, and
castle of the chessboard, while at the same time, telling the tale of
our political providence and fate. After all these are songs of love and
protest, so you're not getting off that easily. The killer line in this
song, "Haalaa shaansi chand taa kish joft panj ye joft shish ghodrat
dasteh kasi deegas" as smart as the backgammon move, just another
brilliant play on words that say far more than just that.
The duality of the lyrics of this song would be enough, but during the
refrain a guitar solo of sheer epic Iranian-rockness appears out of
nowhere to accentuate the tale, bringing you to tears. Seriously, I've
tried, and I've cried, every single time I hear this song. The resulting
release, some serious soul-therapy to be sure.
The very next song "Roozhayeh Mann" is so perfectly placed and the
opening Santana riff so perfectly done, you love it from the very first
OK let's take a pause and listen to the sampler:
Follow that with a sensual sonnet of love's torture "Emshab Biaa" I
think evokes the truest nature of Iranian-on-Iranian love, namely that
the waiting is the sweetest and most unbearable pain in these incredibly
complicated and detailed negotiations.
But these are also songs of protest and none better than "Haftir Sard"
(A Cold Gun) explains the uselessness of inaction in the face of
tyranny, with a sobering lyric like "Vaghtee khandeh beh geryeh tasleem
meesheh" (when laughing surrenders to crying), then of course there is
no use for a Cold Gun.
The words are certainly deep. Deeper and and far sharper than you're
used to so you don't feel the cut you've just been served until a bit
later. But even deeper than the words, are some of the most unusual
chording and surprising well-fitting details, like haunting background
vocals that chase the main vocal through the smoke and mist. Keyboards
and strings have returned with full glory and give these songs a wider
scope and like ghosts surround and haunt you. And you are a most willing
I especially liked the addition of an acoustic version of "Naamareehaa"
(the invisibles) which is that kind of 3 chord guitar song with the
missing 4th chord that shows up unexpectedly to scratch that itch just
right there, yeah right there, when it gloriously manifests, offering
itself to be scratched raw, lovingly.
OK another pause,
But, the culmination of this incredible album of 18 excellent songs that
flow from one to the other like an epic journey told in an opera,
"Manam Sabz O Sepid O Sorkh" (I am Green White and Red) opens with the
now trademark Shen hauntingly odd question of the listener, "Tarseh
Shoma az Chieh?" (Where does your fear come from?).
You can hear this question throughout the song as it progresses through
an epic anthem and ballad or an incredibly emotional rock ode to our
"bakht" or fate, as it were, as it is, and maybe, possibly, as it ought
not to be.
The song marches you right through your fears, and together we examine
our seeming collective ambivalence and the realization that what we
might really be afraid of is fear itself.
When an album of mere songs can do this kind of evocation and invocation, I kind of think it is a great thing.
Shen's music touched my soul several times during what was supposed to
be just another listen to just another Indy-Alternative-Rock-Pop Iranian
band. But it ended up being so much more than that.
If Shen ever tours, I'm seriously getting seriously wasted before I go. I
think I might have to even start a fight or two. Join me. You can punch
Buy the songs on:
iTunes: Click Here
CDBaby: Click Here
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