This article appears in our 2017 Fall issue, Facts. Subscribe today!
“When I started making music, I found a spiritual home,” Sevdaliza told The FADER in April. “Inside my songs, inside my studio, and eventually inside my house.” And indeed, her debut album, ISON, is like a hologram that offers a glimpse into her private world. Paired with a moving album cover, the 16 tracks progress as we watch her likeness distort and twist. The cover’s sculpture, created by Sarah Sitkin, is meant to represent Sevdaliza as “a mother to herself and her past lives.” (“It carries her vulnerability stoically,” Sitkin wrote.) In the moving visual, we see “[h]er features distorted, some omitted, some emphasized.” And as Sevdaliza cracks open, so do her insights on vulnerability and womanhood.
Born Sevda Alizadeh, the 28-year-old multidisciplinary songstress is an Iranian-born refugee based in the Netherlands. She ran away from the Netherlands at 15, and crossed over to music nearly a decade later. Her style occupies a unique space between avant-pop and electronic, and on ISON, she seamlessly shifts shapes to show us her different sides. In the standout track, “Human,” we’re introduced to the idea of the outer shell and what lies beneath (“And in front of my judgmental eyes/ My precious disguise”)—and by the time we reach “Hubris,” she’s slowly peeled back those layers (“The autopsy report read/ The insides that’s what’s beautiful”).
On the project’s ending track, “Angel,” she gives us her most vulnerable self—a painful repetition carrying a meditative, healing quality—but Sevdaliza still maintains distance between herself and her hologram.
Alizadeh didn’t grow up listening to much Persian music, but throughout ISON, threads of classical influences (like her usage of core notes) merge with her experimental style to create something completely her own. Just as the project sustains an air of mystery, so does the in-betweenness and nonbelonging we face when we unpack our identities as children of the diaspora. Each track represents a new form and a different self, so as ISON progressed, I felt pulled into deeper introspection. “You know when you’re working on something for so long that it becomes bigger than yourself? That’s what my album means to me,” Alizadeh told The FADER. We’ll never know her full story, but its fragments will certainly stick with us.