Upon doing research for this review, I noticed that Phoenix-based producer Kareem Ali’s Instagram bio reads “I create music for everything in the universe”. Marry this ethos with Ali’s one-of-a-kind Boiler Room mix, set in the sunset-soaked desert outskirts of Phoenix, and this mission statement tells listeners everything we need to know.
Throughout the past year, Ali has been garnering acclaim from artists and publications across music, with Resident Advisor claiming that Ali “might be the house artist on the pandemic era”. With 100+ tracks under his belt in the past year, this take couldn’t be overstated. After several years of working in the shadows, Ali has collected co-signs from some of the most current voices in the electronic music landscape, landing himself a spot on AceMo and MoMa Ready’s “HOA012” compilation along last year with the likes of Loraine James and the aforementioned NYC-based duo, AceMoMa. What stumps my brain about RA’s claim is the innate connection Ali’s music to the earth itself and the world that surrounds us. How can 2020, a time characterized by the time we spent indoors, be reflected on through somebody who’s vision lies outside?
Ali’s most recent EP, Getting Through, provides us with insight regarding how this could be possible. The project opens with “Como Me Siento Por Ti (Instrumental Version)”: a track primed to join Luomo on any Crying in the Club playlist. Ali starts the track off with repeating synth chords, held down by piano notes that lead these arpeggios, swelling until percussion kicks down the door. A faint vocal loop musters out “I feel so alone” as the track’s calculated pace chugs along. The vocal loop feels confessional; as if the person’s best friend pulled them off the dancefloor to ask, “What’s wrong?”
The next track, “Pushing Through”, puts Ali’s versatility front and center. Ali stews in feelings of isolation; turning 90 degrees away from house towards trip-hop. Muted vocals and drums reminiscent of Geoff Barrow’s work are not intent on pulling us out of the emotional slump quite yet. And before we know it, Illangelo-like percussions patterns kick off “Dreams of You”, building towards the spiritual confrontation of “Feelings Never Go”. Ali’s hypnagogic vocals repeat the phrase “Outside, inside flawed in love/The feelings always stay, they’ll never, ever go” as arpeggios sugarcoat kicks that fight against the rhythm. The result is remarkable as Ali keeps listeners in their bag while constantly bobbing heads.
Getting Through’s closer, “Euphoria”, proves to be the most uplifting track on the project. Ali channels a techier side of house while keeping the instrumentation distinctly fresh. Synths are the punchiest on the project and the speedy BPM treats those ready to be back in the club. Past the upbeat feeling of “Euphoria”, I find the answer to the question posed earlier. Understanding the connection between others, ourselves, and the earth we walk on lies at the heart of house music; Ali just digests this connection through a spiritual identity. After a year of the inside/outside dichotomy remaining forefront of many people’s minds it becomes obvious why such praise has been thrown Ali’s way.