Cloistered inside the atmospheric So Long Mr. Fear, a quiet monastery of enthralling indie-folk intimacy, Imaad Wasif has the place to himself. Its droning corridors lined with soft reverb, maps of Wasif’s labyrinthine acoustic guitar figures on its walls, his sixth solo album is a deeply introspective and poetic study of subconscious anxiety, obsession, and dread. And yet, even in solitary confinement, Wasif never succumbs to hopeless resignation, never admits defeat.
He could be forgiven for doing so, the pandemic having left so many despondent and dispirited, but in “I Am Free,” the sun peaks out, as Wasif – a touring guitarist for the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs and former lieutenant in Lou Barlow’s Folk Implosion side project – declares, “If the darkness sinks in, I won’t let it take hold.” A thin thread of shape-shifting electrified distortion floats over a steady gait of careful, starkly melodic plucking, as Wasif wards off black thoughts with pristine vocals. Catharsis also awaits in the title track, with its downy buoyancy and soaring chorus bringing the insular So Long Mr. Fear as close to wintry pop nirvana as possible, although the wondrously lush closer “Jealous Kind” seems to know the way.
Exposed, yet unafraid, Wasif is “… waiting for the beast to transform” in the gently surging, dreamy transcendence of “Fader,” accompanied by Jen Wood’s tender cooing while clinging to life and love in a baptismal swirl of piano and keyboards. Walking hand in hand with a ghostly Karen O – reborn here as Nico apparently – as allies in the haunting, apocalyptic “Poet of the Damned,” Wasif holds the keys to the “Doomsday Machine” and assesses his own destruction, then emerges from a bunker to a new day. What the state of the world is in its aftermath is unclear.
In a sense, Wood and Karen O appear like imaginary friends, as does producer/musician Bobb Bruno – all contributing from a distance, with Best Coast’s Bruno adding bass, drums, and synthesizer. And then there’s Evan Haros and his blooms of morphing sitar copper bringing exotic mystery to “Regeneration” and “Elemental.” Maybe Wasif isn’t so alone after all.