Qasim Naqvi’s Teenages (Erased Tapes) Calls Out from Distant Horizons

Qasim Naqvi describes his active life in a two-fold manner. As a member of Brooklyn-based acoustic trio Dawn of Midi, he serves as drummer, driving the group’s emergent, post-minimal grooves and counting among the trio’s accomplishments an opening spot with Radiohead at Madison Square Garden in 2016. When he isn’t drumming with Dawn of Midi, he spends his time composing original material for film, theatre, dance, and an international roll of chamber ensembles. In and amongst these activities lies an enticing body of electronic works, which continues to evolve under the advocacy of eminent experimental record label Erased Tapes. His latest such offering, entitled Teenages (released May 3, 2019), delivers a range of percussive sonorities that bridge a reverberant canyon between the familiar, retro charm many expect to hear from the modular synthesizers Naqvi employs, and a special, distant place that is altogether his own.

The album’s opening track, “Intermission,” germinates from a darkly planted seed seemingly embedded within a single tone. The harmonic spectrum that emerges ultimately twinkles with crystalline iridescence, like light glinting off the surface of some unknown metal. Similarly, “Mrs 2E,” “Palace Workers,” and the mysteriously entitled “No Tongue” carve paths away from their respectively brooding nuclei and fracture into ear-tickling rhythmic ostinatos overlaid with pulsing tonalities in a glittering, musical mitosis. While some music created with modular (or more precisely, “subtractive”) synthesis results from capturing the incidental fallout of twisting knobs and flicking switches, Naqvi’s works are thoughtfully devised compositions that each emanate a subtly distinct personality and resonate together in the context of the album as a multifaceted whole. They are the movements of a symphony, designed and executed with clear intention.

Qasim Naqvi--Photo by Emily Keegin

Qasim Naqvi–Photo by Emily Keegin

The fifth track, called “Artilect” (perhaps as a chilling acknowledgement of the impending dangers posed by artificial intelligence as foreseen by some in the field) rises up from the approaching horizon like a monolithic doorway, offering the now initiated listener passage to the album’s title track, “Teenages,” which arrives carrying a potent paradigm shift. Invested with the underlying sonorous and rhythmic qualities of the previous five tracks, Naqvi introduces a hymn-like progression of harmonic textures that shift and flutter as though triggered by the patch keys of a 1970s chord organ (think autoharp-cum-melodica powered by wheezing electric bellows). This new combination comes across like a double-exposed image or the archaic ratchet of film jumping across the gate of an old projector through which the image received by the viewer is a pulsating interruption of the uncorrupted light emanating from within.

These patterns proceed in a spiraling deconstruction, as elements are seemingly stripped away or otherwise altered in an ongoing mutation until, at about twelve and a half minutes, the metallic washes of harmony are suddenly removed, leaving only a filtered, chopping drone that gives way to the tinny specters of underlying material as the filter cutoff ebbs and flows. This passage recalls the DNA of the album, ticking away like an analog heartbeat pumping life into an evolving electronic organism, now largely formed. Over the course of the remaining few minutes, the listener enters the final sanctum of the work. Increasingly reverberant and spacious, the fragile harmonies return as though inscribed on delicate paper before finally dissolving into the surrounding darkness.

To further enhance the completeness of Naqvi’s vision (and indeed place its mysterious qualities into the physical world) is Christina Burchard’s entrancing music video for “No Tongue,” featuring the remarkable talents of alternative street dancer Matthew “ET” Gibbs in a haunting display of upper body contortion. Burchard’s work only lends to the imagination the depth of possible worlds enhanced and inspired by Naqvi’s compositions. Needless to say, Teenages is engaging throughout and falls effortlessly in line with Erased Tapes’ progressive and thoughtfully curated canon, displaying outward qualities that suggest a short rise to the top.