Youceff Kabal releases new album with Polar Pop aesthetic

I first heard economics senior Youceff Kabal play at The Trunk Space, a few weeks before the semester was over. My roommates and my friends all piled into a car and drove on over to Grand Avenue and Roosevelt. If my memory serves me right, Kabal was the first act and one to remember. 

He played only a few dreamy songs, but his visuals and stage presence carried the act. On May 12, Kabal dropped "El Yunque" which is an anagram of 2015, according to the artist's Bandcamp page

Take a listen to the embedded bandcamp album, and read a lightly edited email interview I did with Kabal. If you really want to feel 2015, attend the "extended listening party" for the album on Facebook

Tell me a little bit about yourself!

My dad is Moroccan Berber and my mom is American, from California, with parents from Newfoundland and Puerto Rico. I moved to the USA in 2004 and went to Metro Arts, studied music at Phoenix College, and yeah, I do a bit of everything.

When did you start making music? What brought you to this style today?

My neighbor, when we first moved to Phoenix was a rapper, Malik Lowry, and he was making beats next door right around the same time that I was getting into Kanye West and Rjd2, especially for their beats. So he showed me the basics and I kinda went on from there. Then my friend Jason Rudd who also made music at the time pressed me to try singing on my beats and so I tried it and it turned out well enough for me to try again hehe. 

I think just the music I listen to, I'll try to emulate, or put my own twist to it. I think tastes define lifestyles, and listening to music, and choosing what to pursue, that's also part of the writing process. Like, "huh, I like what's happening in this song, it's out if the ordinary, and it's triggering something in me that I don't understand yet, and I like it a lot." Wanting to create something like that, the desire to create that feeling for someone else, to feel a little how I feel, that's a big definer for my style.

Have you released anything prior to this album?

Yes, I released two albums as YUS prior to this one: "Palms" and "Talisman." And also two remix round-ups, if you will, entitled "Favorites Remixed I & II." 

What was it like working on this one? Where and when did you work on it?

All the songs were created at home, some in 2012, some in 2013. I think "Ride For Tide" was the last one I wrote, and definitely felt like I'd reached the top in that mode if you will. 

It was cool working on it to be honest, "In The Summertime" and "Star Cravin'" came from a really cool and eventful romantic relationship, and felt really good to make. Strange Tones was a reflection on German krautrock band Faust, and iirc Two Halves was also kind of in that oceanic vibe.

How'd you get the tracks to sound so dreamy? 

Hehe there's a bit of a theme of escapism going on throughout, I'm not sure if that's an actual philosophy but let's pretend. But yeah I think it's kinda natural, and more so maybe from living in Phoenix. I think it's fair to say most people like to get out of the city often, and I feel like music is a bit of a trip for me. 

Lines like "at peace and far away, that's how I like to spend my day" or "take me where you like to go in the summertime" or even just "why can't I just take it easy?" It's definitely what I hear and feel in the music making process. Like, why can't it always be like this? So, you know, daydreams and dreamers choosing the other route, it kinda all points to this weird aspect of out lives that is dreaming, and the music just ends up sounding like that.

Why the title "El Yunque?"

Ah, yes! It's the Puerto Rican rainforest depicted in the (album) cover, and also my middle name and my grandmothers last name.

I feel like, making the songs, there's definitely a rainy, wetness to everything, and the thing is that my grandparents are all from coastal countries: Puerto Rico, Morocco, and Newfoundland. I feel like I touch a part of the subconscious when I write music, and I feel like often they are the ones speaking out. 

At the same time, Phoenix's monsoon has such an influence on my work, I feel like when it rains hard here, it's very much so the equivalent of a rainforest with palm trees shedding their skins all over the streets.  

So yeah it's kind of an homage to my cultural heritage and my city, and at the same time is actually who I am by law and by choice.

How would you describe your aesthetic or style?

I called this aesthetic polar pop, because it's very icy, cooling, kinda maybe a little cheap, but I prefer to say affordable, all in reference to Circle K's soda marketing scheme. It's also careless in a sense because genres are very limiting and meaningless. We can't have fun or step out of bounds because everything needs to be classified so that we can make money. It's really whatever to me, and doesn't matter. I want to live and experience, that's really my aesthetic at this point.

What do you want people to feel like when they listen?

Just alive. I hope people open up a little bit. There are so many things going on at all times that we don't notice, and if someone is like, "yeah, that's kinda how I feel and I haven't realized till now" then that's, I mean, that's home base. 

The perspective I've adopted lately kinda pushes towards that, that really it's always the case that others see a side of the story that I don't, and there's a lot to learn and the time to start is now.

Where do you usually perform? Any shows coming up?

A bit everywhere, I've played at Trunk SpaceCrescent Ballroom, at Third Space with local open mikes Cultiv8n Culture

I had an under the radar record release party at Urban Beans, and now I'm trying to play a show in Brussels where I'm visiting family currently and in Morocco too when I get there next week. We're planning a larger release event when I return from my travels but we have to formalize things. I'll definitely make it officially known as soon as it's set. 

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