On the L train heading East in New York City, ARI HEST is surrounded by business people, kids heading home from school, and foreigners looking at subway maps. Ari has his phone up to his mouth and he’s singing jibberish into the receiver. After a few seconds he stops, puts the phone down, and says,”sorry, needed to get that outta my system.” And I believe him. Hest doesn’t so much play music as it
flows through him. He explains, “no matter what I’m doing, aside from sleeping, there’s a soundtrack to it. It’s a blessing and a curse, as it drives some people in my life nuts occasionally, but it’s how I’ve been and always will be.” Music is Hest’s unparalleled passion, one that’s seen him create at an astounding pace since he began writing songs in his late teens. Aside from the hundreds of melody snippets swimming around in his iPhone recorder, Ari has hundreds more on his home computer. And then there’s the six albums, 3 ep’s, and “52” in 2008, an innovative project at the time whereby he wrote, recorded and released a new song every Monday for a full year. There’s also educational music he’s written for kids and as he puts it, “music I write with others in mind to sing it.”
And now, Ari is ready to release his seventh full length, The Fire Plays. Never has he put forth an album as cohesive and rife with personality. From producer Gerry Leonard’s hypnotic, ambient guitar on the gripping album starter “Untitled Part 2” to the final strum of the heartbreaking finale “Something To Look Forward To”, you are taken on a journey of self-exploration. And like Ari, by the end of it, you are spent. He explains, “When Gerry and I chose the songs for the album, we focused on how they were going to both musically and lyrically connect. I wanted people to hear it and feel like they opened a window into someone’s thought process. Someone is drawn to something, a person or an idea of some kind, and there’s this ride of emotions that follow – optimism, gratitude, self-sabotage, and eventually a desire to keep it simple and not think so damn much.”
Drawing inspiration from a wide range of musical influences, the songs of The Fire Plays fuse the sounds of 70’s pop era music akin to Gordon Lightfoot and James Taylor with the sprawling electric guitar soundscapes you’d hear from artist/producers like Ry Cooder and Daniel Lanois. At the forefront is Ari’s rugged yet subdued voice which one-time Hest producer Alex Wong described as “A bear eating honey”. Throughout the album, Ari’s command of how each song should be sung is striking. He can sound vulnerable, formidable, angry and hopeful, all with an honesty and passion you simply don’t hear from most singers these days.
Lyrically speaking, Hest has never been a stranger to revealing the personal, and The Fire Plays is no exception. But unlike some previous efforts, lyrics on The Fire Plays are more easily relatable, perhaps a consequence of Ari’s steadfast commitment to improving his songwriting. Hest explores raw emotion the way an archeologist digs for clues to life – with unrestrained excitement. They range from the more abstract “and as I let them go, water cries for my soul, stripping me down to the bone” from the remorseful “Set In Stone” to the more straightforward but equally powerful refrain “I play with fire, and the fire plays with me” from the title track.
Though often melancholic, the album also reveals an optimism, as we hear on the fragile-sounding, nostalgic Concrete Sky “Someday, I’m gonna cut through to you, and you won’t put up a fight” and the playful Winter of Yes “And my face is so cold that I tear, but I won’t let this be like any old year”. Whether light-hearted or dark and intense, Ari’s practical lyrics mold seamlessly with his grainy voice and quiet confidence to create an earnest, engaging delivery.