She was almost a British soul legend. Now Zarif is back with the Square One EP – and she’s determined…
Release Date: 29th January 2021
Label: Self Release
You may have heard of Zarif . She’s been around a while. Her 2010 debut album Box Of Secrets received widespread critical plaudits and she was tipped, by The Guardian to become “The next big thing in British soul.” She’s also toured extensively and was an opening act for Beyoncé (no less) on the UK and Ireland leg of her 2009 I Am… Sasha Fierce tour. But, despite seemingly being at the threshold of a major breakthrough, things unraveled. First when issues started to arise with her record company and then, devastatingly, when she suffered a double-bout of breast cancer. Her new EP, Square One, is a significant and determined step towards sweeping away past disappointments and having a second go.
And those past experiences, coupled with Zarif’s new determination and clarity of vision, provide much of the theme that pervades this short collection of songs. A theme that explores the uncertainty of change, the transience of relationships, the frustration of thwarted ambition, but also the will to start all over again.
The music is something of a departure for Zarif. There are no concessions here to the mainstream and, whilst pop and soul are both ingredients within the heady mix she serves up, these songs are also liberally laced with indie-sounding guitars, loping bass lines. In at least one case, the waves created almost wash over into heavy metal territory.
The set opens with the current single Nothing But A Memory. It’s a clean, punchy number, driven along by joyous jangly guitars that provide a hopeful, optimistic feel. The accompanying video (see below) is a must-watch item… I’ll say no more here, but bear in mind that this is a lady who has recently undergone the harrowing trauma of chemotherapy. Anonymous is soulful and intimate – at least at the start. Zarif sings over a sparse instrumental backing, which is given a measure of immediacy by the frantic, urgent drumbeat, before the song erupts into a marvelous, guitar-laden cacophony.
Click, the EP’s lead single is another punchy rocker, driven along by a sharp guitar riff reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s Beat It. The central theme of the EP is laid bare by a lyric that explores the feeling of suddenly finding yourself lost, confused and directionless, then discovering the inner fight to recover and get yourself back to where you need to be. Zarif rises wonderfully to the occasion and her delivery of the song perfectly encapsulates the emotions of loss, confusion and determination to bring the lyrics vividly to life.
Closing track, Back To Square One is a big ballad that further explores the feelings of confusion, bitterness, victimization and frustration that are all part of Zarif’s recent life story. It overwhelmingly homes in on a determination (that word again…) to pick up the pieces and make a fresh start. Zarif cites Karen O and PJ Harvey as key influences in her music and it is in this song perhaps, that those influences are most readily identifiable.
Square One is an exhilarating, entertaining and thought-provoking collection that is well worth a listen.
Watch the Video for Nothing But a Memory, the current single from the EP here: