Rafay Rashid is an artist and musician who plays with Ravi Shavi, Happiness, and Lookers. He was born in Islamabad, Pakistan and lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
In the words of Nikola Tesla, “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” Fantasies, the debut of Rodney Dangerous (aka, Rafay Rashid), displays all those qualities. Its rhythms and modulations are reflective of the machines used in its creation — the ARP Odyssey synthesizer, the Moog Minitaur, the MPC 2000XL. Energy. Frequency. Vibration. Yet behind — or underneath, or folded within — the glimmer and sheen of the electronic instrumentation, there is oxygen, there is breath; there is flesh and warmth, human anguish, self-doubt, rage, desire, dismay, lust, and longing. There’s a young man, an Islamabad-born rocker, a song and dance man, with a full-throated shriek roaming the Manhattan grid, his fingers pressing and sliding upon a maple fretboard. That milky, rhythmic Tele sound, the supple wrist.
I am just going to say that I am very proud of my friend Rafay and in awe of this remarkable double album he has created over the past four years. It is a sprawling, sonic menagerie, an amphetamine and booze-fueled all-nighter of an album; a bopping, kaleidoscopic fusion of jangle pop, synth rock, r&b, space rock, industrial vibes, doo wop vibes, and what I can only describe as Pakistani-American soul. Sonically magically delicious, atmospheric, immersive, kinetic, provocative, moving from psych rock to disco to dream pop.
Walk a mile in the shoes of Rodney Dangerous — the sidewalks of the Lower East Side become a walking synthesizer, the city grid like a giant fretboard. This island, a tone generator, a giant vibrating rock. We are all grains of salt and sand, resonating and shapeshifting upon this rock. Like city life, Fantasies confronts the listener with a series of shifting possibilities. These 16 songs tell of the moods, misadventures, confessions, and restless longings of someone seeking shelter, comfort, meaning, validation, and respect (hence, the Rodney Dangerfield reference). On a few tracks, there is a sense of these universal longings being compounded by racial discrimination: “You’re a terrorist unless your skin is whiter than your therapist” (“I’m Not Going Home”), and “Stick a knife in the sand, twist it in the immigrant” (“The Beat of the Man”).
Two decades into the 21st century, I sometimes wonder if popular music is evolving or if everything’s been tried. For me, Fantasies is proof that the growth of art form is measured by the inspiration of individual artists. With Fantasies Rafay has created a new and diverse foundation. Having followed his career for close to 10 years, it is clearly a departure from any music he has made before. It is not a mere side project away from his band Ravi Shavi (who I love — I have all their records, I’ve toured with them and I admire them).
Fantasies is Rafay stepping through the looking glass. Out of a need to stay busy, to push boundaries, and perhaps, simply, to leave his mark on the world, he has created a magnum opus. It’s his All Things Must Pass, his Sign O’ The Times. For me, he earned the Prince comparison a while back. Maybe the second or third time I saw him play with Ravi Shavi. That’s when I first noticed his guitar was more or less a prop while he busted moves around the mic stand. (Not that he isn’t one of the best rhythm players out there.) It is on track two, “Mexican Cola” that we hear the first deployment of the Prince-like caterwaul. It appears throughout the album, but his use of it on the last track, “Big Big Thing,” is really worth waiting for; a seismic shriek, held for a full 12 seconds, capping the album.
I am not a music critic. If this sounds like a love letter to Rafay, it is, but I’ve listened to this album many times and what I hear reminds me of what I heard the actor Anthony Quinn say at the Lee Strasberg school in 1987. He taught an exercise — he demonstrated, planting his feet, and said, “You must feel the ground beneath you and reach down further below the floor, below the building, and keep going, descending down below the bedrock, below the mantle, all the way to the earth’s core. Feel it and slowly bring that energy, that fire, and that passion back to the surface.” Fantasies is such an exercise. It is a journey to the core, a rain dance, a week-long binge, a shadow play, a journey along the Silk Road; perilous, ecstatic, undulating, oscillating, beckoning, blooming, constantly climaxing.
If fantasies are suppressed desires and untold dreams, this album is where those dreams go. It is an invitation to move your body and to be moved.
This review would not be complete without acknowledging the grounding presence of Matt DeCosta who produced, mixed, and mastered Fantasies, programmed the drums and played bass guitar throughout. (In the bleak aftermath of the Capitol riots, I found myself heartened
and reassured by his bass line on “Screen Memories.” I don’t know why, but every time I hear that track, the bass line makes me feel like everything’s going to be OK.) Shout out to Felicia Douglass of Dirty Projectors and Opal Hoyt of Zenizen for providing back-up vocals throughout.
— Kevin Corrigan
Fantasies is out now.
(Photo/Video Credit: Daniela Dawson)