It is said that his music is a circumvolution around percussion-based rhythms. This is a hard-hitting album, with a complex, but soft, a wall of sonorous intertwined rhythmic soundscapes.
I suspect that most readers of Dave's Place Music might not be terribly familiar with music from the middle east (in any pure form), except for a tune here and there. If you have enjoyed the massive rhythms found on modern music from the Middle East, paired with clearly western sounds - then this album is the whole enchilada (with home made sauce ). For me, a cool thing about not understanding a word of what is sung by Alaa 50, is that all you can do is just let your brain swim in sound.
The album starts slowly with Al- 'Asr Adh-Dhahabi (The Golden Age). It's like waking up in the Le Riad Hotel de charme overlooking the Khan el-Khalili in Maurice Louca's native Egypt. The track moves in a monotone lower circle of rhythmic, stomach-rumbling sounds. Yes - this album needs to be played at some volume. On top we have keyboards, guitars and instruments native to the Middle east playing a very hypnotic tune, and with elements of, what can only be, improvisations.
I love the lead track of the album - Al-Mashoub (Idiot). Here it is possible to hear a dog barking (listen for the echoing woof-woof-woof appearing now and again). This is a very captivating track, and lo-and-behold - I even heard a touch of the '80s "interplanetary sound", which was very popular in certain circles back then.
Benhayyi Al-Baghbaghan (Salute the Parrot) is four minutes and thirty five seconds of pure bliss. This track mixes Middle Eastern music and western electronica. I cannot say that the track is slowly building up to a climax just after the 3 minute marker: it starts at a very high level of complex sound layers (this is what makes it so great), and continues from there. The track is so good, that it even gives you a chill-out period at the end. What more can one ask for? Actually - you can ask your media player (be it a turntable or an electronic player), to put this track on repeat. This is a definitive favourite track of mine on this album.
No! Don't put the track on repeat the first few times you listen to the album. This album must be listened to from track one to eight without silly interruptions. As you may have guessed - this is yet another Ultimate Headphone Worthy album release.
The Rupture, or Tasaddu' as the track is originally named, is a very strong vocal track. Captivating vocals are performed by Alaa 50. Given that my knowledge of this language is really NIL, all I can do is let the voice be an interesting instrument. This is the definitive tune to play when the sun rises over the جلف كبير (Gilf al-Kebir) while you are looking down at the Petroglyphs of the Giraffe, Ostrich and longhorned cow. (While we're talking about جلف كبير - this is also the setting for Michael Ondaatje's novel The English Patient which the 1996 movie of the same name is based on. Very popular movies back then, but even with 9 Oscars, this movie unfortunately did not give me Hollywood Magic.) All in all, this track is one of the few vocal tracks on this album - and it's very good. This track is a clear favourite of mine.
With Maksim (Maxim) we're back in the land of rhythm and the cop movies from the 70s. If you haven't ever watched The Streets of San Francisco yet, you have missed out on the best cop show of the '70s*, staring a very young Michael Douglas. Also, let's not forget the superb Karl Malden. The theme song from that show (by Pat Williams) - is - perhaps - maybe - the best theme song from that era. Unfortunately, this may be the album's weakest track - when this is said I do not mean that the track is bad - it's not bad. But compared to the other tracks on the album - it does not go anywhere. It's really on self-repeat.
What Maksim is lacking, Al-Mallahat (Salt Pans) make up for in abundance. We have big bass handled by Mahmoud Waly. Big guitar play by Sam Shalabi. Even bigger percussion by Khaled Yassine and Mahmoud Abd El Khalek. Every time I hear this track, it blows me away. Literally hanging me on the nearest wall. WHAM! Yes! This is the definitive track from this album. If they were going to release an old fashioned single - this would be the A-side. If there is only one track you have time for, this is it!
Sharraq Rah Tegharrab (It Will Set), with the help of the robotic voice of Alaa 50, starts in an industrial setting. We quickly move into a warm sunny place, with the occasional murder** of a lone saxophone (handled by Alan Bishop). I found this track to be the least Middle Eastern sounding track on the record, but soundwise, still a funny track to listen to.
Malnash Diyah (Spineless) comes out as the second longest track of the album, lasting 6 seconds less than 6 minutes running time. Again the vocal of Alaa 50 is setting the stage. Unless you understand the vocal, the first half of track could be perceived as a bit on the monotonous side. However - it has a great start (you are back at the bazaar from track one) - and a very apt ending of the whole album. Seldom I have heard such an excellent album landing. It's like leaving the part on top.
One thing for sure, this was my first exposure to a full album of music from the Middle East. Hopefully it will not be my last.
The album will be available on CD, 12” LP (black and limited edition green vinyl, 200 and 300 copies respectively), and digital download from November 17, 2014. Pre-orders will be available via iTunes and the Nawa Store from 20 Oct 2014 with the album lead track, Al-Mashoub (Idiot), offered as an immediate download.
* The opinions expressed here are purely those of Ruben, not of all Dave's Place Dossers! - Dave
** Dave's Place does not advocate the murder of saxophones or any other musical instrument ... unless you meant "murmur", Ruben? - Dave