By Richard Wink
“What you listening to, Richard?”
Egyptian Hip Hop, I reply. The band, not hip hop from North Africa.
I swear, these Mancunians have deliberately given themselves a name which puts the listener of their music in an awkward position. How do you describe what or indeed who Egyptian Hip Hop sounds like?
Shoegazy, ambient soundscapes, I dunno really. This is music which carries a certain familiarity, but putting a finger on what the possible influences are becomes quite tricky. I suspect the band is the type that doesn’t want to be pigeonholed or categorized, although when writing a review you are always seeking comparisons. In this case, none immediately spring to mind.
Good Don’t Sleep requires the listener to get out of the house, and explore. It works better at night, under tiring street lights, the cool autumn wind swirling leaves, making you dither whether or not it is appropriate to shiver. The hypnotic ‘Tobago’ opens the album, but ‘The White Falls’ is when the event begins, for this is the point when Good Don’t Sleep becomes a magical mystery tour soundtracking another aimless wander around the Golden Triangle that will end in me buying a packet of Salt and Vinegar McCoys and a bottle of Red Rooster energy drink from the local Co-Op.
Alexander Hewett’s cloudy vocals are hard to decipher, he sighs and croons, he seems perplexed, he sounds philosophical. Meaning and comprehension almost seem irrelevant, as his voice is used as an instrument and not a mode of storytelling, something to mix with the interesting compositions. ‘Yoro Diallo’ is one of the few conventional efforts on the album; the orchestral synths give way to a straightforward bassline, before Hewett sings and the sky falls, a potent example of words becoming weapons within song.
Detractors of Egyptian Hip Hop might say that the band is irritatingly pretentious. Their music is unconventional, yet not alienating to the listener. Good Don’t Sleep is an beguiling album that when you truly think about it, means a lot more than it should do. This is music, just music, and given that music has become such a throwaway commodity, available to pluck from the ether, it is hard to make a case that this album is a genuine work of art, however hard one might try. I suppose I’m saying that Good Don’t Sleep is something to be admired; quite how Egyptian Hip Hop managed to craft such an intense listening experience is anyone’s guess. When ‘Iltoise’ fizzles out with a sobering ambience, ending the album in a calming way, you need to take a few minutes to recover in silence, to think about what you’ve just heard, and hurriedly make plans to listen again.