Julia Sabra & Fadi Tabbal “Snakeskin”

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Night glows while the streets vent an ambiance of decay. Concrete is a noose, a conductor of life’s disappearance. The end was written so long ago that, at this point, it feels like adaptation and survival are all that’s left. Snakeskin explores and expands on these buried emotions, casting imaginative, crumbling arrangements into the dead soil where purpose doesn’t grow but hangs on. Sabra and Tabbal shape melancholic synth patterns, feedback squalls, liminal vocals, and so much more into knife-edged pathways through the growing chaos. Written during the aftermath of the 2020 Beirut port explosion (that destroyed Julia’s home and injured her partner), Snakeskin is a beacon.

Rhythms get buried beneath electronic debris and synth sequences in the opening passages of “All The Birds,” giving Sabra space to serenade the smoke-filled air. The track expands into the growing cracks when the beat breaks the surface. There’s considerable restraint shown, however. Tension builds in the vocal melodies and grinding textures, but it never explodes. A feeling of settling in and finding ways to connect in the discomfort rushes through every note. “Haven’t you heard? Nothing grows here anymore,” Sabra sings. “The air is burnt. Nothing grows.” “All The Birds” is a hymn embracing what’s been lost.

The title track magnifies these ruminative sensations with glass-jawed intensity and ghostly howls. Sabra is incandescent, her voice distorted and smudged into fiery silhouettes. Along with “Signs,” it’s the most direct, visceral track on the album. Both “Snakeskin” and “Signs” have a fervent undercurrent bristling at the edge of full-blown desolation. Walking that line, though, is why this music connects so profoundly. Sabra and Tabbal stare into the abyss and recognize that it’s not going anywhere, and neither are we. There’s a brutal truce to be found.

Snakeskin closes with the first song the duo wrote post-port explosion, “Roots.” Emotive synth progressions flow through oblivion, following the trail left by Sabra’s mesmerizing vocals. It’s a song encased in crystalized grief and opaque courage. Layers loop and intersect, folding back in on one another, repurposing the bones of a world that no longer exists into the armor that keeps our story moving. Electronic swirls touch the sky, seeding the coagulating clouds with uneasy determination. Snakeskin is a masterpiece that dreams not of renewal or rebirth but seeks to understand what feeling connected to this barren husk of a place means for us. 

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