Azim Zain and his Lovely Bones have been a staple to the Canberra music scene since what feels like forever, with his music resonating so personally with fans both within and outside the territory borders, that his departure from the country last year heartbreakingly impacted everyone.
Which is what maybe makes his debut album, Be Good, even more perfect than it already is.
Nearly one year ago to date, we got the first taste of new music from Azim with his anthemic single Passenger Seat, followed closely by a re-work of Holiday Home in February this year. And given that song was previously released on Azim’s debut EP back in 2016, you couldn’t help but picture a room full of friends singing “Woooah ohh, tell me I’m exactly where I should be” at the top of their lungs like old times.
We’re glad the song got the treatment it deserved for a second time round - Holiday Home is the incredible go-to song for many of us when we think of the emo-folk songwriter. And it's the familiarity of the song that let us know that whatever record Azim was leading us towards was going to be a very special one.
In July, we heard the emotionally blistering third single You Just Hit The Jackpot, Tiger - which hit a little too close to home with lyrics like “I’m the one who has to leave, well I’m ready to go, my bags are packed at your door". This was the song Azim’s band kept hyping up closer and closer to its release, and honestly, they weren’t wrong. It’s a glorious song that quickly found its way on heavy rotation throughout the rest of winter and spring.
And then, November 13 finally arrived, and we were treated to the anticipated record led by the second track from the album Punk Don’t Pay The Bills featuring none other than Vic Austin from Melbourne’s Nothing Really. With so much excitement and pent-up emotion leading up to Be Good, I had that sudden fear of what if I don’t like the album? What if after all this time, I’m not into it? But after playing through the 40-minute record on Friday morning for the first time I realise, of course, that that wasn’t true. This album was everything I had hoped it would be, plus more.
Be Good is filled with so many cathartic moments and masterfully crafted melodies that it’s hard to decide which song is my favourite. Cut Me Down To Size was the one I was looking forward to the most - being the second song on the album that’s also a re-recording from the acoustic original from 2018.
It’s the song that summed up who Azim Zain is for me. The intricate dance between guitars, piano’s, and build-up’s felt like The Lovely Bones from before, but the heavier moments that drive the track show the sonic similarities between this band and Azim’s former Elk Locker. And right at the end, you get the sound of someone tearing through a harmonica solo, a moment that ties the middle of the record to The Lovely Bone’s folk roots, while reminding us that Azim is someone who never ceases to surprise us.
The second last track Playing Pretend sees Azim the magician making seven minutes feel like 3. This is the emotional final scene in this bittersweet finale. It’s the final battle of Endgame moment. It’s the funeral at the end of Remember The Titans moment. It’s the big cathartic release that begins to bring this album to a close. The first five minutes of the song is a steady drive before Azim tears you a new one with a heartfelt closing chorus that rings with the words:
I wanna sing these songs, I want to be remembered
I want to be adored by every last stranger in the room
There’s a reason why the end of my sets I tell you I love you
Oh come on just let it go
Come on just fucking let it go
The finale in question The Past Year And A Half is the big hug feeling I know we all need at this point of listening to the record. The song has that sound to it that just completes this album perfectly, in the same way I Know The End is the perfect finish for Punisher, or the way Something Good summarises We Are A Team exactly the way it should.
Azim’s showing us just how hard he’s worked on Be Good and how much of his life has gone into it. It’s not a quickly made album. And it’s not just a few songs thrown together either. It’s a carefully crafted piece of work that shows Azim Zain’s talent as a skilful songwriter, as a versatile vocalist, and as a smart musician.
By this point I think this goes without saying, but this is probably my favourite album of the year. And so to end this in the same hopeful and optimistic manner in which Azim end’s his album - “Stay calm, be good, let’s get better”.