Named by The Guardian as the ‘next big thing in British Soul’ after her first album Box of Secrets, Zarif’s star is currently rising. The opening act for Beyoncé’s on the I am… Sasha Fierce UK tour, Zarif has toured Europe and has built up a solid fan base. Her debut EP Square One is a homemade, independently-produced collection, striking out from the artistic control major labels have over the musician.
But there is more to it than just that.
A two-time survivor of breast cancer, Zarif wrote these songs to get perspective and provide catharsis. This is the music Zarif wanted to make. Needed to make.
So, does taking back creative control allow Zarif to produce a brilliant EP?
As it happens.
Opening track “Click” catches you, draws you in. Overall it has a steady tempo, going at the speed of walk, that’s been mixed with sharp feedback distortion on the lyrics and guitar rift. Its minimalist intro has a warmer, more resonant sound that provides it with a grittier, rougher, feel. Zarif leans into her grunge and art-punk influence more without dropping her dream-pop roots. It’s a fighting sound, punchier, that plays contrast to the lyrics of suddenly finding yourself lost and without direction.
Singletrack “Nothing but a Memory” reflects Zarif’s battle with cancer. It’s a song about change. Like “Click” it has a minimalist drum beat and guitar chord opening with a marching beat to it before the arrangement kicks in during the verses. But “Nothing” isn’t as warm as “Click”. It’s airier, lighter, which can make it, at times, sound like a colder song, which is at odds with the upbeat guitar over the song’s bridges. It gives the song a contrast that enhances the thematic quality of the track.
Meanwhile, “Anonymous” is a warmer song, with a strong arrangement. Starting with a slower, tempo, a walking speed one, it builds up in stages to a dancing tempo. While the song’s speed never peaks higher that “Memory”, it has a more profound arrangement and harmony, combining them with the feedback distortions style of “Click”.
Square One is a good EP. Great even. There is something of 90s alt-rock mixed with Brit Pop that makes you wish this was a full LP and not an EP. It has a fresh, original, and juxtaposing sound that gives enough rawness and passion, born out of personal uncertainty, to stand out in the sea of new releases.