Around noon, on an unusually mild, 80 degree Sunday in June, I receive a text from Farah. She informed me she was at church at the moment, but I would be able to stop by her place later for a listening party of her unreleased debut album, “Into Eternity.”
Upon stepping into her apartment, in a charming, but older building nestled just a stone’s throw from the colorful rows of bars and clubs on Knox-Henderson, she invited me to guess who was pictured in one of two framed black and white images of a man grasping a microphone that hung on her walls. Her wall space is barren, devoid of cluttered décor, save for three of her own records, and of course the framed photos of a rather popular rock music vocalist she eventually named, and in the process, embarrassed my knowledge of contemporary rock music icons.
Farah is not widely known in Dallas. Her Italians Do It Better label contemporaries, Glass Candy, Desire and Chromatics, are usually the more widely recognized bands that many fans of glossy italo-disco music embrace. However, her track, “Law of Life,” as well as “Dancing Girls,” from the first After Dark compilation, were no less an achievement than any other song on the mix. Carving out a seven and a half minute trance-inducing rhythm from the pulsating dance floor that is the album’s overall flavor, “Law of Life” slowed the record’s tempo down to a hypnotic crawl.
Her newest single, “Into Eternity,” a dark, droning and mechanized track from the After Dark 2 compilation, another dance floor cocktail of some of the most interesting electro/disco being produced on the Italians Do It Better label, opens with the line, “I am made in God’s image.”
“Into Eternity” may be Farah’s audio scrapbook from the past, as her work, both writing and recording began around 2006, with the first track “Kill for Life,” a song that would later inspire the lyrics for the Chromatics hit, “Kill for Love.”
Nearly five years later, Farah’s first actual debut album will soon see the light of day. “It’s crazy how long it took me to make this album. Farah is the queen of patience. It wasn’t always easy, but she trusted me,” Johnny Jewel, producer, said.
And her patience, as well as Johnny’s own growth as an electronic music production guru, paid off.
With “Into Eternity,” Farah’s song writing is as mesmerizing and anesthetic as her previous releases. It grows on you with or without your consent. Her voice, seemingly so fragile and vulnerable, and yet somehow declamatory, performs spoken word material that describe everything from mythic visions to something that could have been penned from an old hymnal. I asked where she gets her inspiration for her writing style. “Why do you think I go to church?” she chuckles.
Her lyrics read like a preacher’s sermon, with a choir chiming in with affirmation. But her style, when paired with her label mates, can catch one off guard.
“Her song on After Dark 2 is both a refreshing and polarizing moment in the record, hypnotizing the listener inside a tunnel of sound and bass,” Johnny said. “It’s like a garish nightmare, or a beautiful dream, depending on who you ask.”
Thumbing through her notebook, a meticulously crafted collection of pages and pages of hand-written songs, I asked how many notebooks has she gone through. Mulling it over for a minute, she replied, “This week?” I meant in the sense of over her career, in which her answer would have been more of a reasonable response. “I’d say about four.”
As Johnny Jewel lives in Montreal, and has kept himself buried in producing and scoring soundtracks, as well as raising a child, Farah and Johnny keep a simple correspondence.
“We only use computers for emails to say hi.” Farah explained. No downloading. No sending carefully-typed song lyric attachments. Everything involved in the duo’s music writing process and production has been done via the archaic US mail. She mails him a stack of hand-written songs, and he replies with copies of cds, rough mixes of beautifully dark synth-pop tracks that could score any gloomy sci-fi film or crime drama from the ‘70s or ‘80s.
The recording of her newest album, “Into Eternity,” can be half-handedly described as an interesting departure. But that would be a simple description. More accurately, this debut is a shotgun blast, spraying its ammo in an array of different directions. When I envision a complete album bearing her name, I do not exactly envision simple renditions of Sonic Youth, or club-ready party tracks, complete with almost Southern style hip hop beats that are presented therein.
“Most people only know me from ‘Law of Life’ and ‘Gay Boy,’” she explains. “Gay Boy,” her other rather off-beat and weirdly funny single, may have further created the love or hate divide over the acquired taste that is Farah’s style. Farah simply hopes to let more of her artistic diversity be discovered.
Taking in “Die,” the first song she played for me, a rather poppy departure, it retains a minimalist point of view through the song’s short lyrics. I realized almost instantly this new release will send fans scrambling for the immediate download option at their nearest computer. Or hopefully, the online checkout page for the vinyl copy. Many intense, multi-layered songs dart all over the electro-pop map throughout her album, however a few stood out instantly.
A beautifully composed solo piano track tickled me in surprise, a song she paused on, and explained how I would recognize it once her vocals come in, a rather haunting rendition of “I Will Survive.” For some reason visions of some tragic hero dying in typical slow-motion imagery flash in my mind.
Another track, “Two Windows,” lends murky recordings of acoustic guitars and mandolins to Farah’s ghostly vocals, vocals I might add, that swing back and forth from English to Farsi, adding more mythical sensory overload to an already beautiful composition.
Between spending her days working the counter of a Dallas head shop, and keeping good company porch-side with the friendly neighbors in her building, Farah plans for the future, however not in the sense that her plans are listed in clear-cut fashion. Puffing away at a floral scented e-cigarette, she explained she’s saving up for a car, then a laptop, and then a camera. This is not a haphazard summation of items. The car is for obvious reasons, however the laptop and camera will be instrumental in her eventual plans for selling choice clothing items online.
However, her continuous consumption of cheap notebooks shows no sign of slowing down.
With After Dark 2 now getting wide release, Farah, while awaiting her new album’s release, is already hard at work on her next album, as evident in a colorful three dollar notebook that lies on her coffee table proves. “I’ve grown so much as a writer,” she says, pointing out a few of her recent favorites. It is rare to witness a writer so enthusiastically inclined to share their own work, and witness one doing so with such excitement.
“One of the compelling things about Farah’s poetry is that exists on its own timeline,” Johnny said. “There is no obvious linear direction or trend in her writing. It’s just there. Take it or leave it. Love it or hate it. There is no in between. I find that very interesting.”
Mr. Jewel also expressed his adoration for Farah’s complete disregard for convention and structure, a sentiment I would guess, seemingly non-existent among most producers. There’s a lot to take in as I examine her writings. Some songs are of true spoken word structure overlapping multiple pages, while some are simple three or four simple lines of lyrics. “Farah’s music is a giant creative explosion. My job is to pick up the pieces and bend the sound to vaguely resemble pop music and rhythm,” Johnny explained.
As the afternoon progressed, Farah’s conversation was not without her fair share of anecdotal tales and behind the scenes stories of her history and history with Johnny and company. While out at a bar in Dallas, a friend of hers, knowingly and wrongfully introduced Farah to a fan as a former member of Glass Candy. Her new starry-eyed friend then proceeded to follow her for the entirety of the evening.
Anonymity certainly suits Farah well. It allows her to grow creatively at her own pace, as well as at such an obviously expeditious rate, as her mountains of writings and work has shown.
As Johnny remarked, while bands like Chromatics or Desire focus on pop, “Farah is like film.” I may be taking this out of context, but sometimes the great protagonists of film are the unsung heroes. And Farah is nothing if not unsung.
That is not to say that Farah seems to seek recognition. Her song writing is for a new album, however it does not come across as reaching for a famed status. She seems to write for herself. To pour out and capture her creativity as it comes, and whether or not it eventually becomes album material, seems somewhat secondary to me.
While the fans of mainstream electro/disco await another Dallas visit from the Italians Do It Better band roster, or make the trek to Austin this November for Fun Fun Fun Fest, I await even the smallest bit of overdue recognition of the talent right here in their own backyard.