Rushk - Sawal (2006)

On first hearing "Sawal" is a coherent piece of music. It is an album from start to finish with each track connecting the dots in a circular maze that is a reflection on the surroundings of one man. This album asks questions and in its own thrillingly strange way, it manages to answer a few of them, if not all.

The questions are predominant in almost every song: the intensely beautiful "Behti Naar" with its jazz like feel with gorgeous saxophone solo and soft piano and intricate wordplay, "Har Ang Num Honey Laga/Haqeeqat Lagey Afsana," the sinisterly melodic "Mushkil" where the fatigued protagonist sweeps the listener into her inner turmoil of the naivety of her love, the decisions that lie ahead as she croons, "Sochti Hoon Kya Tujh Sey Keh Doon/ Teri Nadani Ka Gala Ghot Doon," the short but effective "Khuahish" with its ultimate questioning that sums up jealousy and revengeful notions and their aftermath in one big swoop as Nazia (Zuberi) sings, "Mile Ga Kya Tumhe Ab/ In Jali Kati Batoon Sey."

As a songwriter, Uns asks questions. This questioning continues with the retrospective "Khoj" that asks you after lone memories, lost survivors, what else is there to fight. On a similar melancholic note, one finds the magnificent "Inteqaam" and the lovely ballad, "Bheegi Chandni". Where "Inteqaam" haunts with its indirect hints at blurring the lines between what's real and true and running from it, "Bheegi Chandni" takes a further leap and moves from melancholy to sheer hopelessness and morbidity and points at the emptiness that sweeps into human psyche and makes one ignorant and perhaps even indifferent.

Musically, "Sawal" works as an architectural monument, layered with an air of slightly mournful yet sarcastic compositions. And fortunately, the album does not focus on guitar as a sole instrument. "Sawal" concentrates heavily on everyday 'noise' and uses it as playground to build up a song in an effective and a very personal sort of a way the isolated footsteps in "Khuahish", dialing of a phone and lone bell ringing in "Khoj", flies buzzing in the opening of "Qaed", a dial-up internet connection in "Abhi.. Yahan" are just some examples.

There are many surprises in the album. The first one being the vocalist: Nazia, who sings in the most sonorous, often sultry and at times, sarcastic and angered way ever done by a female vocalist on a locally produced album. The second surprise comes in the form of Ali Haider who sings in just the right direction in "Rahen" and "Adhoora." After a very long time, Ali Haider has sounded this good. The third and final surprise comes in the form of tablas. In an album that one could put perhaps under the category of electronica, the usage of tablas on certain tracks is simply a welcome.

"Sawal" surpasses all expectations. This is no riff after riff, guitar slashing rock album. Neither is it your average Bhangra pop-meets-filmi music album."Sawal" has a precarious depth to it and with its sarcastic wordplay and sonically gripping sound, it remains a superlative album. "Sawal" is a must have album, just to affirm the fact that Pakistan does have its very own Radiohead.

Maheen Sabeeh
The News International, Pakistan