Suuns/Jerusalem In My Heart

Suuns And Jerusalem In My Heart

Suuns’ last release, Images Du Futur, was, for me at least, a classic example of an album that slowly invades the brain’s pleasure centres rather than immediately overwhelming the heart. The first couple of listens were oddly alienating, the band’s rarefied take on alt psych proving difficult to get a handle on beyond their sometimes uncanny resemblance to Clinic. But then it began to work some kind of creeping magic, its stark grooves, sense of tension and sudden changes in atmosphere revealing a group that was fully in control of its aesthetic.

I don’t think that Suuns And Jerusalem In My Heart is in quite the same league as Images Du Futur, but it shares that album’s initial elusiveness, the feeling of familiar elements being viewed at an unusual angle. And of course, it isn’t just a Suuns album, but the fruits of a collaboration between the group and Radwan Ghazi Moumneh, a Lebanese experimental music producer and engineer who’s been resident in Canada since the early 90s. Moumneh is a long-time associate with the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but his Jerusalem In My Heart project is inspired by the traditional music of his homeland, specifically the lo-tech, often distorted tapes of Syrian wedding singers he would scavenge from local markets.

Evolving out of an initial session recorded at the end of 2012, the seven pieces on this album practically beg the listener to hear them as a fusion of East and West, but it’s an interpretation that Moumneh in particular would vehemently reject. Opening track ‘2amoutu I7tirakan’ (the numbers are substitutions used by texters for Arabic sounds without an equivalent in the Latin alphabet) begins with lovely spirals of spacey analogue synth, immediately evincing the woozy unreality of Boards Of Canada or Sinoia Caves. A crackly Arabic recitation becomes audible – a reading from some religious tract perhaps? But Moumneh has angrily declaimed that such an assumption is western stereotyping at its baldest, a box we unthinkingly put "the east" inside. He’s right of course – listen again and it sounds more like the last transmission of a Lebanese space crew stranded on the wrong side of the moon (though I’m clearly bringing my own interpretive foibles to bear here). A simpler, more strident synth line takes over, matched to a robotic drum pattern, while slo-mo guitars alternatively drift and squall in the background. The track progresses through a series of different levels, and produces a satisfying hybrid of trance electronica and metronomic out rock.

‘Metal’ significantly ups the ante, bass and guitar playing call and response with its harsh, whirling dervish riff, the track harried along by the dry rumble of drums. Again, it lights my head up with visions of some Middle Eastern Star Wars knock-off from the early 80s, the primitive special effects obscured by tenth generation video static. ‘Seif’ is less fuzzy, but based on another fast, circular riff. It reminds me of Turkish guitar god Erkin Koray’s brilliant Elektronik Türküler album, and more recently, Rhyton’s Kykeon, which also places traditional instrumentation such as the bouzouki in a neo-psych context. Moumneh’s chanted vocal is swathed in grimy reverb against a glitchy rhythm track, while a Michael Karoli-esque guitar haunts the periphery, suggesting an oblique connection with Can’s ethnographic forgery series.

If the first three tracks are an impressive and exciting realisation of Suuns and Moumneh’s combined approach, the remainder of the album makes plain its origin as a collection of rough sketches re-worked into something more presentable. ‘In Touch’ is a warm electronic chug that gets dirtier as it progresses. Minor guitar chords are gently stroked in the background, and we hear the distinctive voice of Suun’s Ben Shemie for the first time, singing softly as though to a terrified hostage. But the song feels unfinished and unresolved. Similarly, Shemie’s other vocal track ‘Leyla’ is another fragmentary lullaby, the kind of thing that might have turned up as a Radiohead b-side circa Amnesiac.

The tapping percussion and lush arpeggios of ‘Gazelles In Flight’ fatten out into a wandering drone that might be imitative of the muezzin’s call, or maybe it’s just riffing on the classic Pink Floyd/Tangerine Dream sound of the mid-70s. The album closes with ‘3attam Babey’, a swarm of synth on the desert horizon that morphs into a swirling dust devil, an imploring vocal from Moumneh at the eye of the storm. But again, both tracks feel like they’re spinning on their axes, great sounds that don’t necessarily go anywhere.

Suuns And Jerusalem In My Heart is more than just a stopgap or indulgence, and with those first three tracks in particular, it pulls off a convincing and vital meld of contrasting cultural and sonic palettes. And if not all of these experiments work, it’s nevertheless proof once again of the myriad musical possibilities out there in the world just waiting to be brought into existence.

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