Back near the end of 2012, Radwan Ghazi Moumneh, one of the central figures of the audio/visual group Jerusalem in My Heart, ducked into the studio and recorded a handful of songs with artsy indie rock group, Suuns. In 2013, both outfits would release albums of their own, Mo7it-Mo7it and Images du futur respectively, but these collaborated recordings would remain in the cooker, aside from a few live performances, until now. The doubly self-titled release merges the two groups’ streams of thought into a fluid and exciting thirty-five minutes. Combining Arabic vocalizations, chat alphabet for some of the titles, and the electronic grit of Moumneh’s work with the smooth, even-tempered approach of Suuns is delicate work, but the result of this synthesis speaks for itself.
Right away, it seems clear that Suuns is content with providing the foundation for Moumneh to work on top of. Much of Mo7it-Mo7it is based around droning, atmospheric electronics and Suuns, having some experience with the sound, offer their support, churning their guitars as Moumneh’s blistered analogue synths dance on top. “Seif” has a gently rolling guitar, underlining handclaps, and soaring, shredded synths. Along with Moumneh’s impassioned vocals—melismatic and emotive, recalling the style of tarab singers such as Abdel Karim Shaar—and the characteristic distortion one might find leaking from the boombox of a cassette salesman, the song brings to mind the relentless style of a certain sunglass-sporting wedding singer. The cut “Metal” has the guitar crashing in surf-style waves as the synths blare out like cracked horns amplified by blown-out speakers. The propulsive percussion and the various effects make the cut seem like it could have rightfully belonged on either artist’s individual releases. It’s a great collaborative track. It is easy to understand why the artists decided to make this collaboration. They just sound good together.
Limning a sort of midway point, “In Touch,” is one of Suuns' controlled tracks, with a steady bass pulse and placid electronic ebb undergirded the sound before English vocals and isolated guitar twangs surface. The cut fades out as sharp breathing and static overwhelm, heading into the lead single, “Gazelles in Flight.” For the actual performances of Jerusalem in My Heart, the visual component, typically serviced by old film projectors, is integral. Lacking such a visual dimension here, the cut opens with the whooshing click of film rushing through the projector alongside squeaking synths and spacey guitars. It’s an exhilarating build as the farrago mounts and insists on being visualized. The final track, “3attem Babey,” is an equally intense journey, and a great example of what the two groups can accomplish together. The heavy reverb built into these driving synth lines and bizarre buzzing, clicking percussion, again recalling a film reel, makes for a huge, heterogeneous sound that perfectly defines what happens when two different, but complementary approaches collide.
For a number of reasons, it’s strange to call Suuns and Jerusalem in My Heart an album of cultural cross-pollination and it’s not calling out a sound that’s too westernized or compromising. It’s simply that Moumneh has been involved with the Montreal music scene for so long, both playing and producing, that it’s difficult to imagine how it would look without him and the fact that he and Suuns are just so consonant in the studio. There is a great deal of familiarity and fluency among the artists involved, so it makes sense that they would be able to enter each other's style with such ease. Sure, there are a few moments of clumsiness on the record—looking at you, “Leyla”—and it is far too short, but, otherwise, it comes off as a completely logical and natural collaboration, one that even helps contextualize their earlier releases a bit better. The fluid, sometimes trippy, sometimes racing sound cultivated here could only be made possible by such an acutely well-engineered synthesis.