Habibi are venturing into the unknown. While their self-titled debut “combine[d] the Colgate-white glisten of sixties-girl-group pop with an uncensored edge” (The New Yorker), their sophomore album ‘Anywhere but Here’, responds to a current global climate of unease, weaving colorful 60’s refrains with moodier, more expansive sonic textures.
‘Anywhere but Here’ was created with Alex Epton in the XL Recordings studios with the ability to flesh out sounds and nuances which deepened the band’s creative chemistry, a far shout from the DIY 20-somethings musicians-in-the-making who recorded in each other’s bedrooms. With the comfort of time on their side, Habibi were able to experiment with instruments like the 12-string guitar, ney flute, vibraphone and sitar, and call back previous collaborators such as tombak percussionist Yahya Alkhansa, adding Middle Eastern flourishes that continue to tell the story of their history and heritage.
First single, the entrancing “Come My Habibi,” is perhaps the strongest bridge from 2018 EP, the Farsi-sung ‘Cardamom Garden’ lauded by The New York Times for “celebrating their lead singer’s Iranian roots” and by Pitchfork for “shedding rigid definitions of what constitutes American music,” but although the album contains similarly romantic songs (“Stronghold”) and breakup tracks (“Bad News”), the real empowering sensibility behind Habibi’s world are the ones who have held it together through it all.
Habibi are aware that their relationship with one another “has surpassed any relationship with a guy,” and this celebration of female friendship through trying times of doubt and uncertainty can be seen through the deliberate structures, warm synchronization of guitars, and lyricisms that echo throughout, “It’s been a let down every time / But I got you staying on my mind” Lenny Lynch sings on “Hate Everyone But You” a definitive love letter to friendship, that provides a counterpoint to album opus “Dragging Me Down,” that hears Rahill Jamalifard intone “Sun still rises and moon stays out late / Darkness remains on a two sided face,” an ode to the feeling of ‘Anywhere But Here.’
It’s easy to see the ongoing dialogue between old friends that add their own essential components of perspective and support to the record: Lenny, Rahill and bassist Leah Fishman’s easy synergy allowed songs to come together in short bursts between soundcheck and set times during a long worldwide tour last year but the permeating sense of identity meant the record only felt truly cohesive when considering older music that finally felt like it found its place (“Angel Eyes”). This trusting of the process, however short or long, has culminated in Habibi’s most studied and mature record to date.
The songs that make up ‘Anywhere but Here’ pose if not universal solutions, then honest perspectives on navigating a place that can feel more unfamiliar by the day, and finding the universal truths that ground us and challenge who we are. Where ‘Cardamom Garden’ had a strong sense of place, this new opus is a departure into uncharted territories, but with ‘Anywhere but Here,’ Habibi acknowledge that perhaps the only solace to be found is that, if your friend shares with you a spotlight at the front of a stage or a seat at the back of the van, you’ll never truly be alone.
‘Anywhere but Here’ comes out via Muddguts Records on February 14th.