Unique, eclectic and genre-sprawing. That’s the best way to describe the music on Elyas Khan’s debut album Brawl In Paradise. Released recently on BBE Music, Brawl In Paradise showcases one of the most innovative artists in contemporary British music. On Brawl In Paradise’s twelve tracks, everything from hip hop, soul, funk, Nu-Soul, jazz, electro, post punk and folk melts into one. Best described as an eclectic musical adventure, Brawl In Paradise is also a musical coming of age from Elyas Khan.

Although Elyas Khan was born in London, he was brought up in New York, where his career his music career took shape. Elyas founded Nervous Cabaret in 2001. Based in Brooklyn, Nervous Cabaret quickly established a reputation as inventive and progressive band. Crucial to their success was Elyas’ voice and his songwriting skills. This lead to them working with an eclectic selection of artists. 

Soon, Nervous Cabaret were sharing the stage with a variety of artists. Among them were indie royalty, including Anthony and The Johnsons, Animal Collective and Sonic Youth. Nervous Cabaret played alongside Amanda Palmer, Jamie Lidell, Nouvelle Vague, freak folksters Coco Rosie and Berlin folk collective 17 Hippies. These appearances took place whilst Nervous Cabaret toured America and Europe. During this time, they appeared at some of the biggest festivals like Arezzo Wave, Trans Musicles and Dour. Away from touring Nervous Cabaret found time to record two albums.

Nervous Cabaret’s debut album was their 2005 eponymous album. Released two years after their 2003 live album, Ecstatic Music For Savage Souls, Nervous Cabaret was almost overdue. On its release on the French label Naive, Nervous Cabaret demonstrated why the band were keeping such illustrious company. Tracks like Mel Gibson, Instant Lady and the wonderfully titled Passion Plumbers showcased a band who looked like they had a big future ahead of them. 

Two years after Nervous Cabaret released their eponymous debut album, came their sophomore album Drop Drop. Released on Naive in 2007, it looked as if the two years spent between albums was time well spent. Drop Drop featured a band who’d  matured in the two previous years. Among the highlights of Drop Drop were Les Enfants Des Papillon, Dead Naked and Cat Head. Crucial to the success of Nervous Cabaret was Elyas Khan’s songwriting skills and unique vocal style. Elyas could breath life and meaning into his lyrics. He was one part troubled troubadour and one part storyteller. After the release of Drop Drop, critics thought Nervous Cabaret would release another album. They didn’t

Following Drop Drop, Nervous Cabaret didn’t release another album. In total, Nervous Cabaret’s discography comprises just one live album and two studio album. Like so many bands, they never quite fulfilled their potential. They could’ve and should’ve enjoyed much more widespread success. Renowned for their live shows, Nervous Cabaret and their two albums have attained cult status. Nervous Cabaret should’ve been more than contenders. They should’ve been challenging for titles. Maybe Elyas Khan’s debut solo album Brawl In Paradise, will enjoy more success than Nervous Cabaret’s two albums?

Away from Nervous Cabaret, Elyas Khan is pursuing a solo career. That’s not surprising. His lyrics and voice were crucial to Nervous Cabaret. For his debut album, Brawl In Paradise Elyas wrote it in his adopted hometown of Berlin. To write Brawl In Paradise, he locked himself in the old GDR Broadcasting Centre. For those of a certain vintage, that conjurs up all sorts of images. Seeking inspiration from his atmospheric and evocative surroundings, Elyas examines what he describes “as the gods and devils in each of us.” Essentially, Brawl In Paradise appears to be an examination of good and evil? Well, for Elyas he hopes his music is more than that.

Brawl In Paradise is the result of Elyas scrutinizing the world around him. It’s the result of a soul-searching journey, where writer, filmmakers, philosophers, artists and dancers have inspired Elyas Khan. Among them are George Orwell, Jean Renoir, Akram Khan, Edward Albee and Salman Rushdie. So have an African poet and a recovering drug addict and ex-prostitute. As a result, Brawl In Paradise is a compelling musical journey, featuring meditations and incantations. At the end of the musical journey that is Brawl In Paradise, Elyas Khan hopes to help relieve suffering and inspire people’s imagination. Elyas hopes the listeners will embrace the music on Brawl In Paradise, protect and connect with others, not forgetting of course, to dance to the music, which I’ll tell you about.

Transmission Room 804 opens Brawl In Paradise. A one-minute 21st Century adventure, buzzing synths, soaring, choppy harmonies and searing guitars combine with fairground synths. Compelling and genre-melting, electro, pop, rock and post punk unite during this musical adventure.

Top Of The World literally explodes into life. It’s the perfect showcase for Elyas’ vocal. He literally raps the vocal, his delivery impassioned and soulful. Sometimes, he almost spits out the lyrics, as if angry or disgusted. Accompanying him, are a myriad of drums, percussion and harmonies. They join scratches and samples. Together, they provide a look laden backdrop to Elyas’ impassioned delivery of lyrics full of cutting social comment.

Brawl In Paradise has a much more understated sound. With just acoustic guitar and a thoughtful rhythm section Elyas’ vocal takes centre-stage. That means you listen intently to his lyrics. They’re articulate, intelligent and descriptive. You can imagine scenes unfolding before your eyes. Elyas describes the conflict between good and evil. He also mentions plus using violence to gain power and mask insecurity. As he paints pictures, Elyas sounds not unlike David Bowie. It’s the way he elongates words and phrases. This works really well, proving effective in getting across what are some powerful, potent and intelligent lyrics 

Lowest Of The Low is best described as a melting pot of musical influences and genres. Best described as rocky, raucous, ethereal, hooky, futuristic and post punk. For much of the time, Elyas sounds as if he’s fronting an old school post punk band. They provide a rocky backdrop as his sneering vocal sings “I was happy with the Lowest Of The Low.”Add to that ethereal harmonies, futuristic, a sci-fi sound and an abundance of hooks and you’ve three minutes of pop perfection.

Claps of thunder give way to a robotic voice as Alien In Waiting appears. A droning sound joins a meandering acoustic guitars, scatted vocal and myriad of sci-fi sounds. Mysterious, ethereal and futuristic, it’s a truly compelling experience.

Drums mark time and the rest of the rhythm section drive the arrangement to The River along. A musical journey unfolds, destination The River. Broody strings accompany Elyas’ emotionless vocal as sings “to The River.” Behind them, moody and menacing describes the arrangement. Strings swirl and sweep, as a proliferation of percussion takes the track reach an almost discordant high. As the percussion is replaced by the piano, it’s almost a relief. Elyas sounds relieved, his vocal becoming a tender scat, with drums, strings and percussion providing an accompaniment as at last, he reaches The River.

Three Merry Boys sounds like a track from Nervous Cabaret. With a driving, rocky rhythm section and cascading vocals, Elyas builds the drama, before unleashing a slow, wistful and emotive vocal. One of the most poignant lyrics is “there’s nothing simple about the simple life.” With a pulsating bass, vintage synths and drums combining, filters are added. They give the track a lo-fi sound. Then when Elyas’ vocal returns, sadness and regret fills his voice as he sings “no one to keep you.” It sounds real, as if this is an affront and reflection on society. This is another example of Elyas Khan’s skill as a singer and songwriter, as he breathes meaning and life into lyrics.

Melancholy describes the acoustic Just A Shadow. A banjo, booming drum and wistful strings accompany a soul-baring vocal from Elyas. He sounds as if he’s drawn inspiration from Anthony and The Johnsons and Grace Buckley. Ethereal, soul-searching and beautiful, it’s a truly beautiful track.

Bells sees Elyas throw another curveball. After thirty-seconds of bicycle bells ringing, a pulsating slice of funky, soulful dance music unfolds. Built around a killer bass line, stabs of piano and keyboards provide the backdrop for Elyas’ restrained vocal. No wonder his vocal is restrained. His lyrics are sung from the perspective of someone who watched the atom bomb explode and new nuclear age unfold. As this devastation is described, you realize why the vocal is restrained. While the lyrics are potent, powerful and deeply moving, the arrangement is funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly. Music with a message to dance to, that’s a winning combination.

Cook The Ocean is best described as indie rock meets Gary Numan. Listen careful and you’ll realize why. With screaming rocky guitars and a pulsating, pounding rhythm section Elyas vocal is a combination of power, pain and regret. A cathartic confession that: “I Cook The Ocean,” it sounds as if the song’s character is struggling to come to terms with his actions.

What A Party is a two minute meditation. Snatches of speech, samples, chiming guitars and sound effects flit in and out. They all play their part in this mesmeric musical collage.

Dear Eliza, which ensures Brawl In Paradise comes to a swinging close, features New York singer Saudia Young. She unleashes a feisty, strutting vocal that briefly, is reminiscent of the B52s’ Rock Lobster. As for the arrangement, genres melt into one. The rhythm section and buzzing synths combine electro, jazz, pop and indie rock. Later, as Saudia plays a starring role in this swinging track, Elyas joins the fun, ensuring Brawl In Paradise reaches a swinging, genre-melting high.

Six years after Nervous Cabaret released their second album Drop Drop, Elyas Khan  is back, but on his own. He’s now a solo artist, and has just released his long awaited and much anticipated debut album Brawl In Paradise. Released on BBE Music, Brawl In Paradise is a genre-sprawling album, where musical influences and genres combine with social comment. Everything from hip hop, soul, funk, Nu-Soul, jazz, electro, post punk and folk melts into seamlessly into one. Meditations, incantations and social comment sit side-by-side on Brawl In Paradise, where Elyas Khan looks at a familiar theme, good and evil. 

To do this, Elyas Khan introduces us to cast of characters, some haunted by their actions and background. These are the ones with a conscience. Others are hardened to the evil they do and unaware of the affect it has. Listening to Brawl In Paradise, it’s obvious the characters Elyas Khan introduces us to have seen and experienced things that will live with them for the rest of their lives. Elyas makes these characters seem very real. It’s as if you can imagine them and the situations they describe. On Cook The Ocean, you an imagine this cathartic, cleansing confession unfolding. Similarly, The River charts a tumultuous journey in search of one of life’s basic commodities, water. It unfolds before your eyes.

In many ways, Elyas Khan is like an artist, painting pictures with his lyrics. These scenes are variously ethereal, beautiful, poignant, moving, emotive, heartbreaking and melancholy. As for the lyrics they’re articulate, intelligent, cerebral and full of anger, frustration, hope and joy. That’s why Brawl In Paradise, Elyas Khan’s debut album is such an accomplished and satisfying album. 

Compelling and critically acclaimed, Brawl In Paradise is a pot pourri of musical genres and influences. Social comment and poppy hooks sit side-by-side on Elyas Khan’s ambitious, articulate, cerebral and emotive, genre-melting, debut album Brawl In Paradise. Standout Tracks: Alien In Waiting, The River, Bells and Cook The Ocean.


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