Front man Sharif Mekawy’s music is known for its distinctive vocals and melodic instrumental arrangements; influenced by rock, jazz, folk and electronica and notably overlaid by a dream-pop fuzz, it is reminiscent of long summer afternoons, wistful and out of time.
The Way Up starts as a mid-tempo country-style homage; skillful and harmonious, shimmering and light of tone. The first two tracks “Anew” and “Dead Time” set a mood of lazy ease and soft guitar jangle but the lyrics belie the upbeat quality of the music and hint at things to come: ‘dead time, broken hearted, dead time, on the move’. This sense of disquiet gathers pace with the beautifully melancholic third track “Eclipse”, which features Wilco’s Nels Cline, and sadly evocative lyrics: ‘I think that I should quit, that I can’t forget the heart, I sit on this roof, wishing the moon would make it dark, me alone you.. don’t want another relationship’. Mekawy sits upon the roof of his home, contemplating his recently failed relationship whilst the moon gradually darkens his world and the music swirls around us bitter-sweet and dreamy.
The central part of the album returns to a more gentle pace with “From a Roof” and “Master Plan” but “More of the Same” hints to a more unsettled mood: ‘You’re right to stay away from me, I’m just no good for you or me, I know you’ll say it’s always the same’ and as such it paves the way for a the sudden and almost shocking change of tempo which marks the album’s final four tracks.
“Once Known” is marked by a steadily rising drumbeat as Mekawy spits his lyrics angrily, talking directly to his listener: ‘she was looking at me funny, and I finally said got to get home and get in my bed by myself all alone…had to get it off my chest, waiting but I don’t know how long…why would I deny, seen it all before and I’ve said a million times I wouldn’t get caught up in these cliched lines’. If anything, the rock tempo of the track, combined with the bitterness of the lyrics makes it one of the albums strongest pieces, despite the dissimilarity to the rest and it cleverly sets us up as we segue suddenly into the angst-ridden shouts of “Three’s Company”; heavily guitar laden and shocking in its variance to what has gone before. But this is a break-up album after all and as such, the ups and downs, the calm and the storms, seem to fit the theme rather than be at variance to it. The soft jangle of the guitars takes on an angry grunge-like message as Mekawy works through his hurt and confusion: ‘like they say, three’s company, I can’t say what it’s doing to me, the fruit that you’re bearing is pretty dark, I’m still swimming in your heart’.
“Don’t Want a Thing” jumps between tempos: at once slow piano and carefully paced lyrics, the next moment the vocals rising in intensity as a new guitar riff takes over. The track feels somewhat disjointed, with an unusual middle bridge but as such it fits with the album’s tonal shifts as Mekawy deals with and works through heartbreak and looks to new beginnings. As such, final track “What About When” manages to unite the album in its combination of a return to the gentle upbeat guitar jangle of the first few tracks, blended with the now familiar use of the gradually rising quiet-loud snarl of guitars, reaching a crescendo wall of sound before slowly howling and fading into a feedback distortion as the album reaches a close.