Shoeb Ahmad is a chameleon. Contrary to popular belief, a chameleon does not change its colours to fit in with its surroundings, it changes its colours to suit its own moods. A cursory glimpse at the roster on Ahmad’s label, hellosQuare, or at the gigs he puts on in his hometown of Canberra, will reveal a huge diversity of the types of things that might take his fancy, from Austin Buckett to My Disco, Mornings to Candlesnuffer. His own music has ranged from subtly processed piano improvisations to the ambient decay of his Spartak duo, or one-off projects with any number of the undergrounds leading improv lights.
Watch/Illuminate is another shade of Ahmad again, gentle dream-pop under a scurrying array of stray digital detritus. Plenty of live drums, guitars, pianos and keys underpin most of the tracks, often in muted shades, as well as Ahmad’s own vocals. But this is just the beginning. Field recordings and damaged electronics are the real mainstays, often in blurry plateaus of sound. Rhythms are insinuated by the looped sound of a cable being plugged in or stray pieces of static, a reversed hi-hat hit or backwards piano delay. The sounds are thick and warm across the album, a melancholia that invites you to enter and swim around. Many of the tracks are long form, unfolding delicately over time. Amidst all this, Ahmad’s voice is a surprise highlight. At times, particularly on the closing ‘The Sleeper’, there is a hint of Syd Barrett to his tone, adding to the dream like quality of the album. Lyrically, a resigned loss seems to permeate. “I’ve not felt the same/since you left this houseâ€¦But I’m not sure this is how/it is supposed to end” he delicately intones under the suspended repetition of a static drone before a wailing violin flies in during ‘This Is How You Fall Apart’.
Watch/Illuminate will, undoubtedly be filed under ‘experimental’. But that tag infers a certain degree of hit and miss, of an artist trying out ideas on the fly to see how they work out, the end result not so important as the process of production. Ahmad belies this idea completely. The album is a fully formed, consistent work, Ahmad in complete control and knowing exactly where he is wanting to take the listener, and succeeding at every turn. A truly beautiful album which proves that hazy, drifting music need not be devoid of continually shifting interest or merely be assigned to the background.