There are twelve months in a year, but only eight songs on Azita's new album, Year. Never mind the math, the avant-pop artist's record moves through seasons of sound as autumn turns to winter. That is to say, not effortlessly, and not without hiccups, but with a boldness and momentum that rewards repeated listens.
Long affiliated with the Chicago-based label Drag City, Azita Youssefi is well-ingrained in the city's musical fabric -- from her time in theatrical punk acts like Scissor Girls and Bride of No No to stints in Will Oldham's touring band. Over the years she’s shifted in tone from noisy rock to punk poetry -- and yet, Azita has always retained a bit of the theatrical. So it makes sense that Year (out Nov. 20.) is part collaboration with playwright Brian Torrey-Scott, and that the project even received a staging.
That said, Azita has a vocal style that is unaffected, unadorned and compellingly bare. She sits back on the record's first track, "Opening," softly singing "Some things you never know / how will you remember / what came before." But then the yowls and swoops kick in, on “Forgetting.”
Year's instrumentation tends toward the minimal too -- featuring a trio comprised of Sam Wagster on guitar, Toby Summerfield on bass and Adam Vida on bass. Yet quiet moments of gruff bowed bass on "Out And Around" and ornamental piano runs on "It's Understanding" are complemented by moments full band assault, including the jangly pop of "Ice," a surprising dub turn on "Something That Happened" -- and the startling layered vocal harmonies on "Finale."
Ruminations on the nature of time, throughout, make perfect sense on an album that suggests we truncate our calendar. Azita is no doubt moving in a slightly different orbit than the rest of us -- and it’s one that is weirdly beautiful.
Gretta joined Soundcheck in 2010, having spent several years as a freelance radio documentary producer. Her stories on birders, fishermen, nurses, performance artists and even the Yale Whiffenpoofs have aired on a variety of outlets, from WNYC's Studio 360 to APM's The Story. She holds a B.A. in American Studies from Brown University and studied radio production at The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. She was a cellist in the rock band Cursive from 2001-2005.