EP REVIEW: Wafia ‘VIII’

Independent Australian label Future Classic has been responsible for releasing the work of some of the most noteworthy and celebrated electronic music artists of the decade. Signed to the label, among the likes of Flume, SOPHIE and Nick Murphy (fka Chet Faker), is Brisbane-based vocalist and songwriter

Wafia Al-Rikabi, or ‘Wafia’. ‘VIII’ marks her third (second solo) EP, and showcases the singer moving toward a brighter sonic demeanour whilst delving into a world of complex emotions.

The sound of this release isn’t entirely new at this point, but, much like a great deal of Future Classic releases, there’s still an incredibly sleek ‘future R&B’ aesthetic surrounding the EP. Several songs feature background layers of reverb-heavy synth chords. The rattling hi-hats are a regular recurrence in the sequenced percussion throughout the tracks, adding the expected modern hip-hop flavour heard regularly throughout contemporary electronica and R&B.

What saves some moments on this release from simply being dime-a-dozen wallpaper music are the vocals. Wafia’s voice isn’t anything out of the ordinary, but it’s euphonious and powerful enough to carry listeners through the quieter and less interesting points in the instrumentals, or moments when a song’s (namely ‘Breathe’) percussion grows close to becoming too dominant. The walls of vocal harmonies featured in several choruses on the EP are tremendous assets and add a certain sense of grandeur to the tracks they appear on. Certain vocal lines (such as the “together/forever” response line sung by the backing vocals in ’83 Days’) were reminiscent of the late 90’s/early-mid 2000’s golden era of R&B-fueled pop. The real, authentic pop sensibilities Wafia and her team possess only heightens the music’s likeability.

As detailed in an Instagram post, Wafia has “spent the last couple of years obsessing over this” (‘VIII’), as well as becoming “really obsessed with the realization that nothing I ever make will be tangible”. This idea of obsession is present throughout the lyrics of several tracks on the EP, specifically its opening two songs: ’83 Days’ and ‘Only Love’. On the former, Wafia sings of her fixation over her relationship with a former lover, as well as how their absence has become inescapable to her. The latter sees the singer overthinking the feelings she harbours for a female friend, before affirming that “it’s only love”. In the wake of last year, lyrics such as “It’s only right / That we find a way to keep it all simplified” ring particularly true. It’s a knack Wafia and her main co-writer, Ben Abraham, possess – the ability to cram a powerful statement into a simple idea or phrase lodged into a catchy hook.

The musical aspects of both these songs exemplify the sound Wafia’s producers bring to the table for the majority of the EP: a slightly brighter and more radio-friendly take on the alternative R&B style Wafia fans are used to. ‘Radio-friendly’, in this case, is not at all equivalent to artificial. By coming through with a more direct sound, her music is automatically more ear-grabbing than the more contrived minimalistic music of other contemporary R&B singers.

The political edge Wafia brings to her lyricism that is introduced in ‘Only Love’ moves into the forefront on ‘Bodies’, a dance-pop anthem calling for unity in dark times, and undoubtedly the best track on the EP. Inspired by the Syrian family of her mother being denied their refugee visas to Australia, Wafia strives to undo the dehumanization of Syrian refugees fleeing their country perpetuated by the media, drawing comparison to the protests of those in the western world. At first glance, one may be put off by the song’s poptimist approach to such a controversial issue. However, the accessibility of the track is part of the point – what better way to unify people than through an undeniably infectious chorus? The 80’s electropop-influenced synth chords and soaring lead melody meld together gracefully to create an endearing and truly stirring hook.

The EP does devolve into your more typical downbeat contemporary R&B in its final two tracks, with the grainy, chopped piano chords and organic, trip-hop-flavored drums on the track ‘Interlude’ paving the way into the gloomy closing track, ‘The Ending’. The first-half of the latter song feels less compelling than what has come before it, with American singer-songwriter FINNEAS’ vocal contribution to the verses not exactly adding anything that Wafia wouldn’t achieve by herself. The song’s saving grace is the combination of the slightly muted percussive parts that slowly grow more complex throughout the track, and the masses of vocal harmonies and counter-melodies that see a similar growth during the song. The climax of the song is undeniably epic and transcendent, ending the EP off on a suitably high note.

For some fans, this EP may not be anything substantial (considering that half of it had already been released as singles by the end of last year), but for others, it will only generate more excitement for a debut album. ‘VII’ is an enjoyable and, at times, emotionally hard-hitting work, and is hopefully an indication for even more instantaneous and catchy yet heartfelt music from her in the near future.

 

You can now buy/stream VIII