Boomkat Product Review:
Spellbinding gear from Ruhail Qaisar, an Indian producer who reflects the conflict of his region with harsh industrial noise, mind-altering environmental recordings and unsettling drones, featuring guest appearances from Elvin Brandhi and Dis Fig.
Ruhail Qaisar grew up in Leh, a Northern Indian plateau region on the banks of the Indus, and the largest city in Ladakh. For centuries the area has weathered ceaseless conflict thanks to its location; in the high-altitude North of India, it sits between China, Tibet and Pakistan, touching not just the Himalayas but the mythical Kunlun Mountains. Qaisar's last album, 2016's "LTALAM EP", recorded under the Sister moniker, was an attempt to sonically mirror the decay of his 10th Century city - that's handily pictured on the cover. Using the language of noise and power electronics, Qaisar was able to accurately capture a sense of anguish and despair that often rings hollow when it emerges from certain quarters of the extended DIY underground. 'Fatima' draws these ideas out even further, using terse spoken word, industrial rhythms and grotesque close-miked foley recordings to paint a visceral picture of the conflict, abuse, and bitterness that comes from being caught between worlds.
'Fatima's Poplar' is an unexpected start, a refusal from Qaisar to self-Orientalize. Using a solemn synthetic thud and rattling chains, he gently delays a poem read in English: "Mummy and daddy standing proudly, but your parents have been vaporized into a dot pattern," the voice states with the emotional blankness of a text-to-speech generator. The track highlights Qaisar's ability to turn our assumptions in on ourselves; what treatment do we expect from an artist mapping out a life we likely have no experience of? 'Sachu Melung' is more ominous, Qaisar's rattles and scratches take on a particularly demonic character, backed up by uneasy synthesis that's not a million miles from Kevin Drumm's haunted catalog. Ear-piercing sheet noise carves through the atmosphere like a dull blade propelled by brutish force, and a hearbeat pulses in negative space. 'Abandoned Hotels of Zangsti' is calming but bedeviled, evoking the lavish empty spaces of Ladakh's tourism industry - capitalism's eerie vibration captured by Qaisar in fluttered pads, unstable bass, and the sound of children playing.
Qaisar uses a familiar palette - field recordings, overdriven instrumentation, eerie loops - but his combinations sound fresh and inspiring. There are traces of industrial and noise music history littered across the album, from the filthy, cassette-saturated crunch of Ramleh and Maurizio Bianchi, to the clamorous post-Krautrock innovation of Einstürzende Neubauten. And just how artist such as New York City's Dreamcrusher are able to re-contextualize basement rumbles to construct fresh, personal narratives, Qaisar constructs something as mind-boggling as 'Namgang', a dazzling abstraction of whispers, mountain bells, heaving feedback, levitational noise, and throbbing John Carpenter-esque bass. Dis Fig's voice cracks thru Qaisar's stifling fog on 'Painter Man', her voice twisted into coughs and hisses over groaning, broken electronics and plucked rusty wires. Similarly, Elvin Brandhi joins the cast on 'Daily Hunger', adding blood-curdling screams that mimic Qaisar's piercing electrical squeals.
It's a deep one for sure - Qaisar's world isn't easy to absorb, but his message is crystal clear when he inks a narrative of the trauma he experienced surrounded by constant violence and the perpetual remnants of colonisation. Turns out noise still has the power to shock, after all.