Zarif - Box Of Secrets
Debut albums are invariably the place where artists find their voice, barring any mid-career crises which provoke an artist to re-invent themselves, and there’s probably no better way of finding your voice than to have no studio interference; that’s precisely what Zarif decided to do by setting up her own label and releasing her debut through it. Every silver lining has a cloud though and the lack of any studio interference has led to a somewhat schizophrenic album and by the end of it, you’re no clearer as to which audience Zarif is aiming for.
There are two very distinct sides to the album: upbeat jazzy numbers and sombre soulful efforts. Unlike with her debut single, title track ‘Box Of Secrets’, there seems to be no effort to infuse the different genres into one sound and while it certainly adds variety, it leads to an album that is easy to like but difficult to love. This is because for everyone who is enraptured by the intimate power of ‘The Day The Music Left Me’, there will be another audience who pine for another track in the vein of the funky jazz of ‘Silence Room’.
It’s definitely a case that one side of the album is stronger than the other as well because in the face of catchy tracks like ‘Breakout’, the subtler side of the album is frequently in danger of fading into the background. The power of Zarif’s dynamic vocals is enough to make the stripped-back ‘Words’ stand out when it’s playing but it’ll be the chorus of ‘Breakout’ that rings in your head once the album is finished. To further emphasise the difference of tracks, ‘Words’ is practically tailor-made for Radio 2 whereas the bounciness of ‘Breakout’ would probably frighten the life out of the average Radio 2 listener.
Undoubtedly there is bags of potential on display here though; the calypso vibe and rhythm of ‘Let Me Back’ is ridiculously enjoyable and Zarif’s vocals on the emotional ‘You Take The Darkness’ are stunning and is one of the strongest lyrical efforts on the album: “I look along the shoreline and see it stretch ahead / While I’m already thinking of the short time we have left”. It’s just a shame that the promise of the retro yet fresh ‘Box Of Secrets’ isn’t quite fully realised and the appearance of said track on the album in two forms – original and with Mz Bratt’s added vocals – might be a sign that Zarif agrees with its strength in comparison to the rest.
Fortunately there aren’t any real duffers on the album, although there are tracks that are unlikely to be considered for singles such as the lifeless – in relation to the rest of the album – ‘Summer In Your Eyes’. However despite the strength of the majority of the tracks, Box Of Secrets never really feels like a complete album and more a collection of tracks cobbled together. Perhaps a more detached record label could have solved the issue but there’s no denying the promise shown and with a clearer direction, Zarif could become a force to be reckoned with.