Like the crazed, bloodthirsty maniac in any self-respecting horror film franchise, the 1980s, it seems, will never die. The past couple of years have seen the resurgence of the previously laughable (currently "ironic") sounds that defined that decade in virtually every genre of modern music, but few artists have embraced it as wholeheartedly as bedroom musicians, probably because it’s relatively easy to produce primitive beats using amateur software, and is also an exercise that comes with a convenient excuse: “but it’s supposed to sound corny!”
For some reason, bedroom musicians have simultaneously been drawing inspiration from beach music, and those who have successfully managed to blend the two styles are the ones to be blamed/applauded for pioneering the now inescapable chillwave movement. New to this presumably sun-worshipping crowd is 23-year-old Egyptian Wael Alaa, aka Neobyrd.
Neobyrd’s debut album, "Transbyrd", may not be "beach music" in the purest sense of the word, but it is most definitely a soundtrack to summer decadence. It’s the type of album where pretty much every song would fit perfectly with a slow-motion montage of bikinis, sand and smoke. Even with your eyes closed, you still feel the threat of being blinded by sun glare. And while Neobyrd might not manipulate our sense of nostalgia as much as chillwave instigators Washed Out and Neon Indian, he does almost as good a job creating and sustaining a certain mood with a thoroughness that takes into consideration everything from the loud anticipatory excitement of a car ride to the beach to the late-night parties and, of course, the drugs. The energy given off by the album is exhausting and infectious enough to make up for the fact that, when all is said and done, Neobyrd’s music just isn’t that original.
Take, for example, album opener "Spill Your Sunshine," which sounds almost identical to the earlier, less sophisticated work of "Toro Y Moi," or "Got Your Love," a catchy track sprinkled with Michael Jackson-esque gasps and exhalations; Alaa readily admits to being a massive fan of the late pop idol. Besides these influences, the whole first half of "Transbyrd" seems mostly indebted to Solar Bears, to the extent that it's hard to decide whether a collaboration between the two acts would be really exciting, or really boring. However, even clichés can be entertaining when properly combined, and this is where Neobyrd’s strengths as a composer lie. Taken individually, the sounds and beats that make up the album are little more than staples of the genre in which Neobyrd is operating. As a whole, though, "Transbyrd" is sufficiently entertaining and does what it sets out to do, which is to get you to dance. And, when it comes to dance music, originality really isn’t all that important – you don’t want to be in a club awkwardly shuffling to an unpredictable beat; you want to bounce around in the comfort that everyone else is moving in the same ridiculous way.
There are some highlights that manage to take familiar elements into less exploited territory. Despite starting off dangerously close to Bear in Heaven’s astounding "Lovesick Teenagers", a progressive rhythm and an upbeat synth melody make "My Sweetheartless" an album highlight and, as "Transbyrd’s" lead single, one that has already struck a chord with Neobyrd’s rapidly growing fan base. "Chick in the Nest" is also undeniably catchy, perfectly balancing old-school silliness with a contemporary, gut-punching beat.
Conversely, the low points pile up during the album’s closing quartet of tracks, which come across as unimaginative and forgettable. "With You Again" kills some time with spacey synthesizers and distorted moaning before an unremarkable beat inevitably kicks in, while "Stranger in Love" feels a little too forced and genre-accommodating for its own good. The emphasis on clear, intelligible (if ultimately meaningless) lyrics makes "Twisted" feel like it belongs on another album altogether, while considering its horrible title, it would be almost impossible for "Lick My Tiesto" to be as bad as it sounds, but it manages to come pretty close. And, while we’re discussing low points, the album cover should be mentioned, if only because it looks, more than anything else, like an invitation to a 10-year-old’s birthday party at KFC. The main criticism to be made, though, is that "Transbyrd" lacks that extra element, the added layer that would have elevated it from a collection of superficial but danceable beats to a substantial, comprehensive, and well thought out album.
"Transbyrd’s" release was celebrated with a performance at the Cairo Jazz Club on Monday night, during which it was made abundantly clear that Neobyrd is, first and foremost, a live performer. After all, his music isn’t the type that demands to be listened to on headphones in a dark room. Instead, this is music that is made to be enjoyed in the midst of a loud, grinding crowd, with a man in a giant paper mache chicken head watching over the hedonistic scene. As an album, "Transbyrd" isn’t that great, and it’d be easy to find stronger tracks on Neobyrd’s various websites. If you’re planning a party, though, you can do far worse than throwing a few of his songs onto your playlist.