Haji Abdul Aziz Haji Ali
Feature by The Star: Under the moniker Self Conscious Acronymed Man, Aziz Ali has unleashed a solo album of brutal honesty. FOR the people who have been blessed enough to meet one Aziz Ali, you will no doubt agree that he is not someone you come across every day. The sometime trumpet player for Citizens of Ice-Cream and cross-dressing zany for art rock band Ciplak is an almost wraith-like character who seems disconnected from reality and able to express himself in more abstract art forms. As a keen music enthusiast, Aziz can be seen from show to show, often clicking a camera with a backpack in tow. But that's the thing which makes Aziz so special, how he seems to embody the arty side of rock, but yet is also grounded and candid enough to look in the mirror and make fun of what he sees. Sometime late last year, he started performing under the moniker Self Conscious Acronymed Man, a rustic, volatile singer-songwriter who bandied about songs on destructive relationships and emotional revenge. Aziz Ali's solo album is filled with emotive outpourings and wanderlust. That productive creative period has yielded an album titled Haji Abdul Aziz Haji Ali. Despite Aziz delivering his own material as Self Conscious Acronymed Man, he continues to involve himself with various bands (formally or not). Unlike certain musicians who set their stall on a musical project (that they would gladly call their own), Aziz has never looked entirely comfortable declaring his allegiance to just one cause. Rather, this is just an extension of the multifarious person that he is. "Writing/recording the album (Haji Abdul Aziz Haji Ali) was a cathartic process for me in resolving, closing a personal event," he shared during a recent interview. "But I managed to resolve it even before the release of the album. The album's completion only reasserted the closure." The cathartic process appears to have morphed itself as a story about a fictional character writing love/hate letters to an imaginary soulmate who has spurned him before realising in the end (rather sickly) that said soulmate was in fact himself. "It's not an accident that the name of the character is my own name. Beneath the love/hate story is a story about the supposed real me behind the mask I wear," added Aziz before clarifying, "But I can't stress enough that it's all about the supposed real/fictional myopic/personal singular me and not about society, religion, spirituality, nor constructs in religion or society." If indeed the album is a much-needed therapy session for the 33-year-old Klang Valley bloke, then it certainly has been a long and complicated healing process. As an album, Haji Abdul Aziz Haji Ali is an ambitious effort. It features 39 tracks spread across three CDs. Each disc sports a different mood and emotional engagement - they are also titled Besides, Seasides and Decide with black, white and grey colour schemes respectively. Each colour represents a specific fragment of his restless persona on this album. "The underlying idea of the album is objective, brutal honesty. The naive equation posits that quantity is directly proportionate to 'honesty' and absolute truth. Hence more songs, more discs equals more honesty, more truth," he explained, before self-depreciatingly continuing, "I like to explain to others that it's akin to a lobotomy, or me completely vomiting out my organs." Discomforting theatrics or not, the controversial CD cover is also a talking point. Just like Andrew WK's debut album cover, Haji Abdul Aziz Haji Ali features a head shot of Aziz in bruised and bloodied make-up, presumably from a beating. Much of this constant underlying need for "honesty" is directly linked to the practice of what he calls "stream of consciousness writings" and seeing where that takes him. "Initially it was going to be two discs, but the amount of material that came out exceeded two discs," he said. "I did, however, feel that three discs wasn't as heavy, oppressive, burdensome as I thought it would be. If anything, it could've been six or seven discs to make it more oppressive. But I didn't actually have that much material." As much as the album appears to be mellow in sound and texture, it is hardly a leisurely Sunday listen. You can grasp the anxiety and awkwardness in his outpourings. The entire record features just Aziz with a lone guitar in tow and parked in front of a mic. It is entirely intentional and not a product of circumstance (after all, he does play the trumpet and flute). On each track, Aziz seems to phase in and out of intimate musical styles, from the narrative rock style popularised by Lou Reed (The One) to creepy laments (Hate) and rather appropriately, the downright ludicrous (Asian Slave White Master). His arrangements and instrumentation are kept as sparse as his self-reflections. "The mellowness is probably what I would describe as the plain and unadorned quality of all the songs. It's very intentional that all the music was only guitar and voice to reflect that notion of brutal honesty." And indeed, now here it is an album for all bruised souls to enjoy as much as Aziz enjoyed the battered process of creation.