Peter Holslin subsists entirely on shawarma.
Outside my living room window, I see grey clouds gathering in the sky. It looks like it’s about to rain, right at the moment I was thinking about going for a walk. So I cancel my plans, turn up my speakers, and take in the world that unfolds before me in this cloistered quarantine room—with the opening notes of Sima Itayim’s new track “The Sun and The Rain.”
Eerie synth drones and clipped vocals evoke the calm after a spring shower. Bits of metallic percussion echo somewhere off in the distance, while bass tones slither like a silvery serpent. Itayim half sings, half speaks, meandering her way through an embryonic melody that emerges from her unconscious. Her words are cryptic and elemental: “bring the rain, with a chisel, bring the sun, with an inhale…”
“The Sun and the Rain” — premiering today exclusively on POW— is a beautiful piece of deconstructed electro-pop. Like the echoing textures of Arthur Russell or the post-modern arrangements of Kate Bush, Itayim’s track arrives at an organic feeling through a radical detour. Her voice floats alone in the electronic ether as she sings about all the things we’re willing to lose and the lengths we’ll go to break ourselves down for the sake of love.
It’s an evocative sound from an artist who has never felt fixed in one place, geographically or artistically. Itayim was born in Cyprus, a small island nation in the Eastern Mediterrenean, and she has roots in Cyprus, Palestine, and Lebanon. She spent years working in the music scene of Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, but now lives in Mexico City. It’s given her a chance to break away from the challenges of Beirut—a city with a vibrant but small music scene and a limited support structure for working artists—to embrace a new landscape, new plantlife, new cultural and political contexts.
“Mexico is very troubled—but it’s a completely different set of problems than the ones I’m used to back home,” she writes in an email. “So it’s not that I don’t see them, or that I romanticize and exoticize it here like most foreigners do. It’s just that it gives me freedom in a sense that I am detached from the traumas I come from and am placed somewhere that is completely neutral to me in that regard.”
As an artist, she has reinterpreted jazz standards, strummed acoustic ballads, and performed spoken-word poetry. A year ago, she contributed slow, haunting vocal accompaniment over Chester Watson’s densely-built rhymes on his track “Underworld.”
“I’ve never been a person who’s good with labels—even in my music,” she acknowledges. Still, whatever her inclinations, her captivating voice and measured delivery gives her songs a powerful center. This is especially clear in “The Sun and The Rain.” Itayim intentionally took the song apart and chose musical elements that wouldn’t be easy to recognize, helping underscore themes of indirection and helplessness.
“I originally composed it on the guitar and the track had the picking of strings all throughout it. But that dragged it down. Made it too linear,” she says. “I was trying to express something obscure.”
A sense of melody keeps it all together, but just barely. And that seems to be the point.
“I named the song ‘The Sun & The Rain’ because these are things that will never be in our control,” Itayim explains. “These are things we could not survive without. We rely on these things in order to continue existing. They are things that deserve to be worshipped. But it’s crazy how they were and are still seen by many as entities that you need to serve [and] feed in order to reap their rewards.”