For many American listeners, the “No One Knows About Persian Cats” Soundtrack will be the first introduction to untraditional Persian music. Featuring a variety of styles — from Indie/Alternative to Hip Hop to Progressive Rock — the soundtrack is an immersive sampler of music that can be found in today’s Iranian underground. The album successfully captures the richness and diversity that result from combining Western and Eastern forms of music.
Featured artist Take It Easy Hospital contributes four of the album’s 15 tracks. Often evoking a cross between Vampire Weekend and Ok Go, they made their first mark in the music industry with the first track “Human Jungle.” With a delivery that alternates fluidly between the two Iranian stars of the film — female singer Negar and her boyfriend Ashkan — each track is fresh and charming without ever getting cloying. Their final track “Me And You” echoes some of the lighter solo work of Edie Brickell where a thoughtful delivery accompanies a soft verse.
Rana Fahran’s “Mast-e Esgh (Drunk With Love)” features a sumptuous vocal performance and tasteful, contemporary jazz guitar work. The track is almost undermined by poor production quality and a horrific drum machine. However, Fahran’s bluesy voice and Steven Toub’s guitar work transcend these deficiencies with a memorable song.
Hichkas’ “Ektelaf” is a hip-hop single that would be at home on American radio — especially during the mid 1990s. Soroush Lashkary (also known as Hichkas) delivers his lyrics with vitriol and passion.
The Yellow Dogs exhibit excellent post-punk musicianship with “New Century” — a song that is accentuated by gripping guitar and bass work. Deliberately distorted vocals and crisp drums help make this a standout on the album.
The movie’s opening titles are backed by Shervin Najafian’s melodic, heartfelt vocal and acoustic guitar work. A captivating tale in any language, Najafian’s delivery is extremely personal and unaffected.
Ash Koosha’s two soundtrack additions, “Chasing The Sun” and “They Sing,” provide an escape from some of the album’s more severe tracks. The cheerful “Chasing The Sun” features Koosha on guitar and vocal while “They Sing” is an instrumental piece that showcases Koosha’s love of composing film music in a song akin to Danny Elfman’s soundtrack work for the film Good Will Hunting. Koosha has had a large influence on Persian music. In addition to forming Font — a four piece indie rock band — he also formed Take It Easy Hospital as the guitarist.
The album’s most moving song is Mirza’s “Emshab” — a stunning, raw powerhouse of a track. Contrasting a lavish soundscape, each line is delivered with unfettered emotions. In a style and pace that is reminiscent of Iron and Wine & Calexico, the song is poignant and powerful and is not impeded by language barriers.
Rock is well represented with The “Dreaming” by The Free Keys. Led by a prominent and distinctive bass line by Arya, this trio packs a powerful punch without ever sounding derivative; the band at once evokes early Metallica, Led Zeppelin and Stone Temple Pilots.
Mahdyar Aghajani features Bahman Ghobadi (the film’s director) in ”Jouwani,” an diverse mash-up of Trip Hop and Electronica that features traditional Persian instruments in another distinct presentation.
Darkoob’s hypnotic “DK” explores several movements including sections that are tender, seductive and celebratory. Employing a wide array of traditional instruments, “DK” captivates from start to finish. Particularly moving is a percussive section in the middle of the song that builds into a tension that can only be released through the accompaniment of a keyboard and bass. Darkoob’s track is another of the album’s standouts.
Hamed Seyed Javadi closes the album with “Fekr” – a haunting ballad with a tribal backbeat that is harrowing in its best moments. Drums are featured throughout the tune to help set the mood. The song does not reach its aperture, however, until magnificent dueling electric guitars propel the song to another musical plane.
Ultimately, “No One Knows About Persian Cats” is a satisfying and entertaining introduction to Persian music…a unique soundtrack that blends traditions into a musical experience that is at times eclectic but always familiar.