Şeb-i Yelda, a Syriac-Persian term signifying “the longest night”, is R.A.N.’s way of romantically historicizing the current situation of the Middle East she calls a homeland. The term, however, also makes reference to an Iranian festival celebrated on the winter solstice, in which friends and family get together and converse or read poems, staying awake past midnight. Ancient Zoroastrian tradition marked this night as one of vigilance, of evils and misfortunes lurking in the shadows, but also of rejoicing, because it is the eve (and consequent victory) of the birth of the Sun God, who symbolizes light and goodness on earth. The modern version of the festival, devoid of its myth, emphasizes the coming of dawn, in a manner that 13th century Persian poet Saadi Shirazi articulated well beyond his (perhaps any) time: “With all my pains, there is still the hope of recovery / Like the eve of Yalda, there will finally be an end.” R.A.N.’s longest night is an electronic, drone-filled soundscape of nightmares, but it is not framed by despair. Like any cycle, it, too, will become the foundation of renewal.
The track names used reflect mythological, even astral figures, like “Ay” (“The Moon”), “Sabah” (“The Morning”), and “Kul” (“The Servant”), romantically anchoring the darkness of the night to symbols of enlightenment – from the brilliance amidst black skies to “working tirelessly for the greater good”, like the artist said about “Kul”. This threads a narrative that starts with the title track, a noisy nightmare with an ominous atmosphere, and ends with “Kul”, a service to the dawn that has emerged.
“Şeb-i Yelda” introduces the EP with a clash of electronic noises, grinding a path forward like a stormy cloud that eventually drops to the ground by means of a clear-cut industrial beat. Sinister short sequences swirl around the repetitive drum, slowly fading out until replaced by a feedback wind of uncertainty. After what seems like a long while but are actually no more than a couple minutes, the uncertainty is dashed away by the introduction of a piano melody, and it is “Ay” in all of its melancholic splendor. Its shimmer is a reminder of the inherent sadness constitutive to any and all hope, almost erasing the noise entirely. When “Sabah” comes forth, it is in the form of a glissando elegy (courtesy of a yaylı tambur’s bowed strings), the works of the night revealed: the beat comes back, but it is this time more dynamic and less surrounded by noise, its atmosphere much clearer, much more determined. The strings swell by the end with a short, intense melody that leads straight into the heavy drone that starts “Kul” off. The ‘servant’ of truth and good is human, a voice singing in distortion as the drone builds up the background in its entirety, a will fragmented in recovery. It is only “with all my pains” that we can face the terrors wrought by this longest of nights, pains that will be replaced by the doings of the dark with new ones that will aid us face the morning.
R.A.N. has packed a great depth and complexity in this EP, worth exploring for its nuanced rendition of hope and renewal. Saadi once again: “The true morning will not come /Until the Yalda night is gone.” This is, with R.A.N., our hope for her homeland. (David Murrieta Flores)