I don’t usually write about my friends’ music, for obvious reasons. Besides consciously wanting to make your friends happy, it’s hard to see the flaws in what’s basically an extension of someone you love. It’s also a slippery slope: write about one friend’s band, and suddenly you’re flooded with a million shitty demos from everyone you’ve ever known. But I’ll be damned if I don’t think this particular friend is doing something interesting, and I want to be able to say that you heard it here first.
So I have this friend named Ahmad. I didn’t even know he made music for the first year or so that I knew him, because he was shy about it despite being a rather un-shy person in general. Among other things, we bonded over an interest in the darker side of music, as well as Strong Women Of The 90s And Today. (Tori! Courtney! Shirley!)
Ahmad—who goes by the musical alias Vasillus—listens to a bunch of different stuff, from mainstream pop to post punk to noise/experimental, and the music he makes is not what you’d expect if you’d only met him a few times and seen his bubbly, fun-loving side. It’s a combination of synths and drum machines, made without the help of a laptop, over which his deep and powerful voice soars to create something he accurately describes as “psychedelic soul and drone music.” His singing voice is at least an octave lower than his speaking voice; we have joked that it’s a different person.
I was tentatively complimentary when I heard the first demos, but it wasn’t until I saw him perform live that I understood his true potential. When Ahmad opened for Julianna Barwick at Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Brooklyn Heights (with the help of Reed Smidebush on pedals and gizmos), I went mainly because that’s what you do when your friends have a show, but the second he opened his mouth, a sound came out that filled the church from pulpit to rafter with a kind of dark magic, harnessing the gorgeous space for spooky metaphysical purposes. The way he sculpted each note as he went, allowing some to ring clearly and others to curdle and turn sinister … the confident, concise poetry of the lyrics … the live experiments with beats, synths and pedals…the mingling of masculine and feminine/witchy energies … all came together in a captivating way that felt like something new in the world. And he’s just getting started!
Vasillus is playing a last minute show tonight before Ahmad moves to Sante Fe indefinitely to work on music unhindered by the indignities of getting by in New York City, and it’ll probably be our last chance to see them for a while. If you want to see an artist on the cusp of great things before he becomes a mysterious desert hermit, might I recommend this show in as un-biased a way as possible.
Vasillus plays Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg at 11 p.m. tonight. It’s only $5.