Ancestor Boy

The second album from NYC's Lafawndah sweeps over you like a tide, finds Joseph Burnett

“I would never know/I would never know/Which colour/Which colour/The one they wanna see me in” Lafawndah belts out furiously on Ancestor Boy’s opener ‘Uniform’ and we’re immediately dropped into an album that explores questions of identity across its thirteen tracks in a style both immediate and elliptic. Elsewhere, ‘Uniform’ comes across as a love song (“Am I your taste?” Lafawndah croons in places) and other songs similarly bounce from idea to idea in a way both enthralling and bewildering.

The question of identity is perhaps inevitable for an artist who grew up between Tehran and Paris, can trace her origins to both Egypt and Iran and has spent a lot of recent years in Mexico and the USA. Rather than make an overt political statement, however, Lafawndah lets the music do most of the talking, keeping her lyrics oblique as her voice is surrounded by cascades of percussion, glittering synth melodies and loping bass all drawn from a variety of traditions. ‘Uniform’ is a case in point: the song starts slowly, with minimal beats and ghostly synth surges but suddenly lurches into thundering percussion. ‘Parallel’ draws from Middle Eastern folk music merged with atmospheric trip-hop. ‘Waterwork’, surely a hit-worthy track, emerges on hypnotic bass notes and ethereal vocal snippets before dropping into a funky swagger with hints of salsa and nineties pop.

It is left to the listener to piece through these lyrical asides to find meanings of his or her own rather being led by the nose, which only makes Ancestor Boy all the more thrilling, especially when its driven by such an effective, powerful production. ‘Joseph’ is a sepulchral ballad with piercing lyrics that place romance as a panacea to the world’s ills: “Wherever you go/You will be safe in this world” Lafawndah murmurs sensually on a bed of glimmering synths. It’s a slower moment amid the raucousness of most of Ancestor Boy and a rare moment of direct meaning. ‘Ancestor Boy’ in comparison is more peculiar, a rollicking dubstep-tinged banger that looks into the past to consider the singer’s –and all of our – ancestry: “Did he come from the water?/Did he come from the sky?/Did he come from the mountains?”. Lafawndah leaves these questions hanging as the music, all pounding percussion and industrial clamour, sweeps over you like a tide. It’s the majestic highlight of an incomparable album.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today