Ibn El Leil - Thoughts

Feb 22, 2021

Day 15 of 100 Days to Offload

In the Discord server I’m a part of I usually post a lot of stuff in the music channel that no one cares about so I decided to redirect some of that energy to my blog.

I am fiercly loyal to artists

Yesterday I got a reply to a comment I made on the latest music video by Mashrou’ Leila (content warning: military, guns, kinda political), a somewhat indie band from Lebanon. The commenter expressed surprise at seeing me comment on Mashrou’ Leila videos often, some comments. I thought this was funny, as I’m a long time fan of many “foreign” musicians.

Top ten artists according to Last.fm: L'Arc~en~Ciel, DIR EN GREY, Coheed and Cambria, Utada Hikaru, Versailles, Mashrou' Leila, Bjork, My Chemical Romance, Thrice, and Joanna Newsom

Mashrou’ Leila is easily in my top ten musicians, I found them by chance while looking for Asian artists (Lebanese people are in fact, not Asian but Lebanon IS on the continent of Asia). I was immediately enamored with them. I can not for the life of me remember what the first song I listened to of theirs was. According to Last.fm, their first song I scrobbled was Fasateen (on 2014-09-02, wild!). Their album, Raasuk was soooo good.

My scrobbling history of Mashrou' Leila, from 2014 to 2021

Top ten songs I listen to by Mashrou' Leila: Cavalry, Bint Elkhandaq, Icarus, Ala Babu, Maghawir, Lil Waton, Falyakon, Shim el Yasmine, Skandar Maalouf, Wajih

I was blessed enough to witness the release of their next album, Ibn El Leil. I was initially skeptical of their first single from the album, it was incredibly pop-y. So glad I stuck around because the rest of the album was beautiful. I love every single track on it. Recently (the past two weeks), I’ve been playing the album through. Very rarely do I play full albums. But this album is just too good to pass up.

My incoherents thoughts on each track

Here are my very candid, incoherent thoughts about each track on the album because I love to talk about music.

1. Aoede

Aoede! Console me!

Aoede is a muse in Greek mythology. There are a lot of references to Greek mythology on this album and I’m all for it. This song has a long intro but it’s hypnotizing. The beat invites your body to sway along. Then the strings come in, just plucks to the beat. Then the orchestra starts to swell. The horns build up and the drum kicks in. Finally, hamed’s voice makes it’s appearance. “Take me from this maelstrom.” What a way to start the album. I live for when Hamed sings “Aoede!”

In my mind, this song is like a subtle “fuck you, we ain’t changing” to the doubters (AKA me) who didn’t like 3 Minutes. It still showed a lot of lyrical depth and musicality that I feared was going away when I first watched the music video 3 Minutes.

2. 3 Minutes

Humor me for a 3 minute pop song.

The single that I did not initially like. Honestly, I still don’t like this song as much as the other ones on this album but it’s still pretty good. The chorus isn’t my favourite part of the song, honestly. The horns in this song just don’t jive with me. But the beat is still pretty good. “The difference between freedom and submission is agency. I made the choice. I permitted it. I said it. Call the devil by his name, and call a musician a liar.” I should have paid more attention to the lyrics, smh. Also, low key, the dude in the music video for this song is h o t.

3. Djinn

Live baptized in gin, I dance to ward off the djin

This song is SO GOOD. The word play on gin and djin (like genie) just gets me every time. This is definitely a song to get up and dance to. I really think Carl did an amazing job on the drums in this entire album. I don’t think they do anything fancy but they just add to the atmosphere of the songs, you know? Also, Hamed’s harmonies are to die for in this song. “I don’t do sodas, man, I don’t do tea. I drown my sorrows, forget my name, and Give myself to the night.” Can’t get lit on tea and soda.

4. Icarus

He had plans but life happens

I can’t remember where I read this but I recall reading that Hamed wrote this song with their father in mind. This whole album is somewhat related to Hamed’s father, I think. This album was made after Hamed’s father passed away, I think. A song for the lost dreams once had in your youth. The orchestra really does wonders for this song. And the beginning with Haig’s violin. Yes. It must be a crime for the bridge to be this catchy. The sporadic guitar twangs too are just the icing on the cake. And the bass. Damn. My favourite favourite song on this album. I wish I could quote this entire song, to be honest. “At night he dances alone (as though the machine were a radio) and the song asks in monotone if he likes who he’s become.”

5. Maghawir (Commando)

Number one, happy birthday beautiful. Number two, you’re in for a long night. Tell your mom to chill, the club’s a bullet’s throw away

This song was written after two shootings in Beirut clubs. Hamed is a lyrical genius. The first verse… A masterpiece. The imagery of a man doning the title of a “soldier” and then doing a deadly deed… They are just too good with words. The horns in this song… Beautiful. “Shoop, shoop, shot you down.” Damn. The end of the song is a great bit to just close my eyes and dance to. A melody that you can lose yourself in, where you can start to feel a gap in your chest start to swell. It’s the kind of beat that you dance along to not because it’s fun but because you can feel it pull you in and you don’t even notice that there’s somewhat of a sinister undertone to it but you subconsciously know. That probably made no sense at all. But that’s how I feel when I groove to the end of the song.

6. Kalam (He/She)

I taste mistakes and whiskey on your lips

This song is more of a slow burn. The strings in this song just add a great layer of depth. The orchestra was a great choice. This is a song that touches on gender and how in Arabic words are either masculine and feminine. I love the breadth of topics Mashrou’ Leila touch on. Gender expression is something I’ve been thinking about more lately. I do find language interesting, things aren’t feminine or masculine in English. What makes a table “feminine” or “masculine”? I cannot comprehend.

7. Tayf (Ghost)

Our hips translated Sappho and Abu Nuwas in the tongue of oohs and aahs

I love the violin at the beginning of the song. I don’t give Haig enough credit. Also. God damn, Hamed. Stop with these clever af lyrics. Poetry, I tell you. Poetry. Anyway. This is song is good. I’m quickly running out of things to say other than THIS SONG IS GOOD. Killing it on the harmonies as always, too. This song is a little gut wrenching, too. I intrepret this song as an ode to the ghosts who have helped progress society, or at least tempted to. My mind goes to Sarah Hegazi, an LGBTQ+ activist who was jailed and tortured for flying a pride flag at a Mashrou’ Leila concert. She recently passed away last year due to the trauma it caused her. “But we sewed flags from funeral shrouds from friends on death row.”

8. Falyakon (Let it Be)

People around me are all so strange, not quite dead, but not quite alive

This song kinda feels like it could be on Raasuk. This is one of my favourites off this album. When Hamed goes “Falyakon”, just, AH. This song is somewhat similar to Icarus in terms of theme. Just watching the days go by, not feelin any real fulfillment. This one is a little more bittersweet in tone, though. Instead of lamenting, it seems to be accepting the fact. Such a good song. And Haig does so well on the violin, I love that part of the song. “But dress me up in smiles. Joy becomes me. Whatever will be, just may be, I’ll still be, standing here singing my melody.”

9. Bint Elkhandaqi (The Trench Girl)

Ride that bike and drive us; we’ll never look back. Tomorrow we’ll look back. We’ll never look back.

Another super danceable song. I love watching the live video of them performing this song at Uberhaus. Just a fun beat. Also very singable. It feels like an anthem song for anyone who wants to leave a toxic situation behind. Or any situation that doesn’t serve you anymore, really. So good. I sing along to this one every time. Dear Mashrou’ Leila, please excuse my lack of Arabic skills and butchering all your songs whenever I sing along… This another song that I wish I could quote all the lyrics to. Every single line is so good.

10. Asnam (Idols)

They distorted and chanted , they sanctify and value

This song garnered a lot of controversy. The band was barred from performing at a festival due to the lyrics criticizing Catholicism. Like religion is free from criticism. Utter bullshit if you ask me. Admittedly, this song is lower on my list. The strings in this song is A+ though. The climax at the end of the song is my favourite part of the song.

11. Sadalasuud

I will admit, this is the only song off the album that I do not have “saved” in my Spotify library. It’s an instrumental track, still very good, but I’m not one to listen to instrumental tracks on their own. In the context of the album, it’s a perfect fit. It feels like an interlude and not a self contained song, if that makes any sense. If I’m listening to the album fully, I never skip it.

12. Ashabi (Comrades)

You and I just met a little while ago tonight. But for a minute in the bathroom we were the best of friends. Tell me I deserve love. Act like you care. Let’s play pretend.

In their NPR Tiny Desk performance, Hamed mentioned that the entire album has the theme of getting really drunk at the club. The lyric in this song inspired the album title, Ibn el leil, AKA I’m a night-child. The sorrows of clubbing in order to fill a void. This song is beautiful. Harrowing. But one that you can still groove too. When Hamed croons, “Ibn el leil”, I feel it in my soul. “And I pour a glass for two and down it all alone. Do you think any of these people will visit my grave stone? Do you have a lighter? Come light my cigarette. All these people around me, I can’t possibly feel alone.”

13. Marrikh (Mars)

Cure me with a pill when I fall. Don’t deny my the bottle when I fall.

A slower song, with nothing but Hamed’s voice and the orchestra. Powerful song. Not really one that I can just put on shuffle. When Hamed sings, “I rise to Mars”. The shivers. Just beautiful. I love how the song ends too. The orchestra fades and there is an electronic twinkling. For me, it brings about imagery of space.

Final Thoughts

I love Mashrou’ Leila. They haven’t released anything too new recently. Their last music video was released in 2019, Radio Romance, which was really good. Their last album I haven’t really listened too, there are some old songs on it which confuses me a little. But I hope to keep listening to Mashrou’ Leila. I hope they keep making music!