Zohra
American Dreams Releases: Murder in the Temple

Murder in the Temple, Zohra’s solo debut, is both a continuation and departure from her past. Zohra is the fourth daughter from a family of Afghan refugees. She grew up surrounded by her father and family friends playing Afghan folk and pop (like the songs of Afghanistan’s Elvis, Ahmad Zahir) in the living room till dawn, and she woke up to her older sisters dancing in their bedroom to Mary Jane Girls, Peter Gabriel, and New Order. As a teenager, Zohra covered her bedroom walls with posters of Lydia Lunch and Natasha Atlas, and went to school wearing an oversized Babes In Toyland t-shirt. Over the course of the past decade, Zohra went from synthesizing these influences (in Religious to Damn) to compressing them (in Azar Swan). Now, working with producer Ben Greenberg (Metz, The Men, Algiers, Bing and Ruth), Zohra presents them with quiet aplomb. The Afghan melodies in her bones come out subtly, with an ear for modal tones and harmonics from all directions. At times, she dives deep into the kinds of dark pop and synth that she’s explored in Azar Swan, flowing seamlessly from bubblegum radio to batcave goth club. And as for those Lydia Lunch posters, the Queen of No Wave has gone from teen-dream inspiration to IRL mentor, helping with the album art and supplying additional vocals and lyrics to Murder in the Temple’s title song and first single.

The themes on Murder in the Temple are as paradoxically simple and complex as the music. In the last few years, Zohra has seen both the subcultures that gave her solace and the country her family fled used as catspaws by various rival factions, none of whom seemed to give a single damn about her humanity or anyone else's. When Zohra started making music, equally enthralled by Kate Bush and Fairuz, her identity was the last thing she wanted to have to focus on. How could she use what she was perfectly busy simply being? But the world is what it is; so, before any of it can be spoken ugly from idiot’s mouths, Zohra proudly sings and speaks her history, her family’s Muslim heritage, her own black-clad weirdo-ness, and unashamed Stevie-esque, shawl-spinning femininity (after all, one person’s Stevie-esque shawl is another’s chador).

Zohra built the record slowly, piece by piece, over the course of a few years, a time that she pinballed between circumstance-defying hope and complete alienation. She wrote and recorded in New York, when it seemed like the entire country had decided her people had no value, and in a sweltering, locked-down New Orleans, where she adopted two cats and devoted her energies to becoming adept at various analog and modular synths and drum machines she had accrued while recording with Azar Swan (while still letting the cats occasionally use the midi for a bed). She wrote songs about drones, religion, human frailty, love, hate, and getting free at any cost. Channeling the confusion and sickness around her, Zohra utilized extended vocal techniques and old Bobbie Gentry song patter to make a music as audacious as it was comforting. While it shouldn’t need to be said, of course it must be made clear that Zohra wrote and recorded all the instruments on Murder in the Temple herself. Returning to NYC, she handed the tracks to Ben Greenberg and said, “go nuts.” And when he did, she knew the work was done. It’s a bracing record, full of the sort of off-kilter chances that can only come when one has nothing left to lose.

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