Having watched Brickwork Lizards at Wychwood Festival in 2017, I can say, honestly and without doubt, that they are one of the most imaginative, inventive, and musically intoxicating bands I have ever encountered. Stumbling upon this creative concoction of a band purely by accident, I was so inspired by the music of Brickwork Lizards that I bought their debut album Zaman (originally released in 2011) as soon as they had finished their set. Showcasing a variety of genres and stylistic influences, the hypnotic hybrid that is ‘Haneen’ fuses traditional Middle Eastern music with twentieth-century jazz.
A central motif of the album, vocalist Tom O’Hawk punctuates each song with spoken verse; staccato in nature, yet powerful in tonal quality, O’Hawk’s lyrical dexterity is often augmented by an alluring accompaniment of cello, double bass, and piano. Opening the album, All That We Are clearly displays O’Hawk’s seamless interplay with Tarik Beshir’s oud playing and Malachy O’Neil’s slapstick double bass sound. Lyrics, such as ‘Beyond the depths of greed’ and ‘People strive for more,’ highlight the atmosphere of belonging that hovers above this track, while the use of vocal call and response between Beshir and the other members of the band ultimately helps to reinforce an image of nostalgia, yearning, and identity. Similarly, Ya Rayah – meaning ‘You, the one leaving’ in Arabic – evokes feelings of longing and wistfulness, with Stephen Preston’s trumpet solo dancing gracefully above a string accompaniment (playing pianissimo). Reflecting the playfulness of Dixieland jazz, We’re Through boasts a powerful, monophonic voice to sustain the songs melodic energy and vigour; reaching a climatic ending, O’Hawk’s and Beshir’s fortissimo vocals also help to enhance the animated and spirited nature of the track.
A listener greets the face of almost every human emotion in this album: from love to despair, and from rage to remorse. I would not describe Brickwork Lizards latest work as a conventional album. By this I mean that, while it structurally resembles your average album (complete with a quirky cover and ten tracks), it defies convention by daring to merge so many paradoxical genres together. ‘Haneen’ is more like a painting that lives in an ancient palace, than an album that sits in the corner of a record store. It’s a painting that ultimately stands testament to a forgotten era, and reveals all the charm, passion, confusion, and sincerity of an empire lost.