Album of the Week 40-2013: Barış Akarsu – Islak Islak

Back when I was still discovering the beginnings of Turkish Pop and Rock music, there was one singer whose voice really stood out for me. Sadly, he died six years ago at the much too young age of 28, but he left three thoroughly impressive albums to remember him by. Barış Akarsu’s voice just sends chills down my spine. His deep, rich baritone has a warmth that makes it very easy on the ears, but he had this thin edge to it that makes his voice – and as a result, his music – raw enough for the fan of accessible Rock music.

Centerpiece to Akarsu’s 2004 debut ‘Islak Islak’ is the title track, a tune he covered from Cem Karaca, one of the godfathers of Anatolian Rock. And even though Karaca is a legend and the original is a more than decent tune, the arrangement for Akarsu’s voice is the ultimate version. In a less synthesized environment, the song’s brilliant build-up in tension really gets the chance to shine and Akarsu’s heartfelt, passionate and powerful performance is the definitive goosebumps inducing factor. The remarkable thing is: once you find out what the lyrics mean, the song’s build-up makes even more sense within the context.

One song, however, does not make a good album. Luckily, ‘Islak Islak’ is an enjoyable listen all the way through. There’s a surprisingly large amount of variation, given the 40 minutes of running time. ‘Gel Gör Beni Aşk Neyledi’ is build upon a driving Rock riff, which could have been a Metal riff with a different guitar sound, and an infectious rhythm, the horns in ‘Ayrılacağiz’ give the song some Ska-like overtones, even though it is in nature a subdued Rock song, ‘Gün Olur’ has a great rocking drive as well. ‘Amasra’ and ‘Aldırma’ are beautiful ballads. ‘Mavi’ sounds like it could have been on nineties mainstream Rock radio with its catchy chorus and strong vocal melodies and ‘Bir Kasaba Akşamı’ is the perfect catchy Rocker to close this thing off with.

Production- and performance-wise, ‘Islak Islak’ is a very pleasant album to listen to as well. Producer-arranger Serdar Öztop, who also plays all the guitar parts, has opted for a natural sounding sound with a lot of room for Akarsu’s amazing voice, without making it too dominant in the mix. Drummer Volkan Öktem and bassist Murat Ejdar are a formidable rhythm section as well.

Barış Akarsu’s untimely death was a great loss for music in general. Because his songs are in Turkish, his albums are somewhat hard to find outside of Turkey, but they’re well worth seeking out. If the language barrier is no problem for you, nothing will stand in the way of enjoying one of this century’s best Turkish Rock albums. With one of the best singers in both the Pop and Rock genres.

Recommended tracks: ‘Islak Islak’, ‘Gel Gör Beni Aşk Neyledi’, ‘Bir Kasaba Akşamı’

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