If 2012 was the year of bedroom artists, then 2013 is a year defined by living-room artists. At least that’s the case in Cairo, where inhabitants have been living under a nightly nationwide curfew enforced by the Egyptian military and security forces for nearly two months. The curfew has been in effect since the violent dispersal on August 14 of the pro-Mohamed Morsi sit-ins at Rabea al-Adeweya and Nahda, which led to the deaths of around 1,000 people.
But it’s not all bad news in Cairo. While the curfew has been limiting, confining, and more than a bit maddening, local musicians are doing what they do best: making music against all odds. Take for example my favorite new indie rock ensemble, PanSTARRs, who released their second EP, “Yestoday” on SoundCloud earlier this month.
Originally a solo bedroom project by Egyptian musician Youssef Abouzeid, PanSTARRS began from the artist’s metaphysical crisis of “putting the why into words, when every word is a pale imitation, a mere ripple in the vast ocean of being.” In February, Abouzeid released his first EP, titled “Nothingness,” with an ambitious DIY spirit. The four-track album was singlehandedly created by Abouzeid, who cooked together his talents in songwriting, recording, and production to release one of the most unique indie rock albums in Egypt this year. It was defined by his wistful sonic vision, pensive guitar lines, and detached vocals that oscillate between plaintiveness and deep contemplation. While all the songs on the album struck an emotional chord, in the song “Gold Tears” Abouzeid’s weeping guitar slides came into their own against a backdrop of a country falling into despair.
For “Yestoday,” Abouzeid teamed up with guitarist and producer Nader Ahmed, from the band Vent, and producer Zuli, who is widely known for his work with his band Quit Together. “Yestoday” gives us a feel of the limitless possibilities PanSTARRS find in the utter joy of making music void of indie-mainstream politics and befuddled identities. Recorded mostly in Ahmed’s living-room studio, the album is something of a cross between the psychedelic fuzz of Tame Impala’s “Lonserism” and the reverbed, industrial guitar lines and fractured dance rhythms of Deerhunter’s “Monomania.” Standout moments appear on the album’s opening, “So Little Time,” and the Arabic-closer, “Ayez Anam” (I want to sleep).
With its reverbed bass line, drum kicks, and lyrics like “So little time, so little space,” “So Little Time” is emblematic of too much time spent in military-enforced confinement. The song and eight-track album as a whole succeed in not only establishing PanSTARRS as rock musicians, but also present the band’s true innovation, which is rooted in an ability to express metaphysical contemplations of time and space through the ever-present galactic sounds and noise on most of “Yestoday.” But it is in the album’s closing track that Abouzeid’s unguarded existential dilemmas reveal themselves to greatest affect. “Ayez Anam” is a raw, melancholic, stream-of-consciousness Arabic number filled with soft vocal echoes, a plaintive acoustic guitar and reverbed fuzz making the perfect nihilistic soundscape for his drone-like lyrics: “An empty, empty world / Fuck this world,” and later, “All the people are dying, and I want to sleep, I want to sleep.”