Arooj Aftab’s Vulture Prince (Verve Records) is Outsideleft’s LP of the year. Rarely, if ever have we heard such harmony unreconciled and such beauty compromised. For it cannot just be merely beautiful, its rudiments are in the pain of loss. It buries love with grace. The tone arm aches as it plays. Vulture Prince is an album meditating on its influences, 13th century mystical poets and 20th century jazz greats, neo sufi inflections and seemingly spare instrumentation layered upon layer upon layer. And then Arooj’s voice, epic and intimate, sweeping and seeping insidiously into each listener differently. In those moments, it’s just someone alone, someone singing us their songs. Sometimes we can still be astonished and Arooj Aftab’s Vulture Prince astonishes us.
The strings, the percussion, the sound of the bass… oh my.
Arooj Aftab is a 26 year old Brooklyn based singer and composer. Born in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents, spending part of her childhood in Lahore. Arooj moved to the US and graduated from Berklee before moving to New York. Phew! Life…
Even cumulatively, while we only hear an embarrassingly small fraction of the totality of releases in any given year, it has to be said 2021 was a pretty fine year for long playing record releases. But from the moment Vulture Prince got onto the stereo, it was hard to take it off, we were mesmerised. Vulture Prince is simply the most arresting record of the year.
Vulture Prince consists of seven long and meandering tracks, that there aren’t too many of them only seems to add to their richness, the mellifluous beauty of each. Last Night is a pop radio hit! Mohabbat made Barack Obama’s annual summer '21 playlist and whoever helps him put those lists together has great taste. The record follows 2014s Bird Under Water and 2018s Siren Islands, and is dedicated to the memory of her younger brother Maher.
I love records that aren’t sung in English, records I can’t understand. I put them on and they wash over me and I write and write. It is the greatest feeling. When I think of vultures, as of course the title asks me, and what they do, I think of the great Spanish artist Greta Alfaro and I could see these two women working together, it would be massive and slight. All at once. I know Vulture Prince has made many end of year lists and oh how I despise those lists on the whole. So lazy, so obvious, so devious, so purposeless, so - business of music oriented. Perhaps if there was a more extensible list of art objects created in 2021, then Vulture Prince would find a deserved place there. Enough.