Layal is an Egyptian singer and songwriter that’s based in London, and we quite like her music. She is a more-than-capable singer, whose smoky voice and the effortless way she delivers her intricate melodies work very well against the soul sound that she goes for with her music. Her songs are also nice and simply written. Nothing complicated. A couple of hazy chords, a tasteful pad, and go crazy with intertwining melodies on top. Her healthy habit of adding a couple of sentences in Arabic in the midst of songs never fails to take us up by surprise.
There’s quite a bit that we can say about Layal’s sound and how rich her music is. So thankfully she comes to the rescue with this EP, so that we can explore and discuss her latest release. First things first. ‘Lost in Translation’ features 5 songs, 2 of them have already been released earlier. That leaves us with 3 new songs. With this release Layal is confirming a particular brand and sound that defines her music. Her blend of girlish, carefree singing on top of rich and hazy soul music, and a fusion of electronic beats and acoustic ones introduces a flexibility that is still cohesive, thanks to her simplistic songwriting that utilizes little harmonic content -in the form of chords- in favor of lush melodic content and a lot of production detailing.
The five songs on ‘Lost in Translation’ follow that formula to the word. Starting with ‘Baby’, a short, one-minute introduction with lush synths and tight electronic beats, on which Layal’s processed vocals are layered and sits comfortably on top of the mix. ‘Madina’ follows and it is a previously released song. Arguably the EP’s most standout track, ‘Madina’ has a warm acoustic sounding drum part and a memorable bass riff courtesy of an earthy acoustic bass. The song’s 2 chords are a perfect background to the litany of melodies that Layal sings on top. Mostly populated by a melody that’s got a rap quality to it, a minimal melody that keeps things interesting by being rhythmically dynamic. With a stunning mid section sung in Arabic, ‘Madina’ almost checks all the boxes.
‘This State’ was previously covered on SceneNoise, where the song’s neo-soul sensibilities appealed to us quite a bit. The song features one more uber-tight drum sound and an unforgettable, bluesy bass riff. Far less upbeat than ‘Madina’, ‘This State’ features blues and soul in their most confident and able modern iteration. Layal’s vocals are also more restrained and the melodies are less understated to serve the song’s brooding vibes. Following that is the slightly underwhelming ‘Margaritas y Tobacco’. With unweighted lyrics, an overly dramatic composition that tries to add a bit of Latin into the mix via a trumpet solo, a stirring bass part, and a dense mix with a very pronounced rhythm guitar, the song is a mixed bag. We can certainly enjoy the Arabic lines and we think the fusion is just as striking as ever, but little else about the songs wows us.
‘Mehwar Diaries’ finished the album with a note of neo-soul with a decidedly Cairo feel to it. If you’ve ever been stuck on Me7war, you’ll know. The hectic electronic beat hastens the rhythms for a fresh and rewarding closer that breaks the pace elegantly.
Layal’s brand keeps getting more fleshed out by each release, and this EP is a precious addition to her catalog that sees her confidently playing a musical role and sticking to it. Just like the EP, Layal is a precious addition to the roster of Arab artists in the diaspora, especially as she seems quite comfortable blending in her mother tongue and even references to life in Egypt in her music which is directed to a global audience. We think Layal is very cool, and her first EP is also very cool.