Jerusalem In My Heart: If He Dies, If If If If If If
Constellation Records

Though it has existed as a live project since 2005, Radwan Ghazi Moumneh's Jerusalem In My Heart (JIMH) gained considerable traction following the release of 2013's debut album Mo7it Al-Mo7it (Ocean of the Ocean), and the second full-length If He Dies, If If If If If If should if anything garner the group even more attention. Though Moumneh's the driving force and core conceptualist, JIMH is properly speaking an audio-visual entity that augments Moumneh's musical production with the live projection of hand-made visuals by Montreal filmmaker Charles-André Coderre (who's also responsible for the album graphics).

Moumneh comes by his love of Arabic music honestly: he's a Lebanese national who's spent much of his adult life in Canada, in the early years as a guitarist within the Montréal music scene and more recently as a sound engineer and producer. In keeping with his multi-national identity, If He Dies, If If If If If If was recorded in his dual homes of Montréal and Beirut. Like its predecessor, the new recording fuses multiple styles and sensibilities into an oft-mesmerizing hybrid of Arabic musical elements and electronic production treatments. In this bold and emotionally charged collection, the eight settings alternate between vocal pieces featuring his melismatic Arabic singing and instrumentals rooted in expressive buzuk playing.

At the outset, “Al Affaq, Lau Mat, Lau Lau Lau Lau Lau Lau” (The Hypocrite, If He Dies, If If If If If If) captivates the ear immediately with the impassioned wail of an a cappella vocal performance, after which “A Granular Buzuk” spotlights Moumneh's instrument playing in equally arresting manner. With the prepared guitar of Sharif Sehnaoui threaded into the mix, the track pulsates with electronic energy as the re-sampled and radically altered titular instrument gets shredded by Moumneh's real-time custom signal patches—a powerful example of the project's intense Arabic-electronic fusion. “7ebr El 3oyoun” (Ink From the Eyes) perpetuates the haunting vocal character of the opener, with this time Ian Ilavsky and Pierre-Guy Blanchard sitting in on guitar and percussion, respectively, and enhancing the plaintive melodic pull of the singing. Much the same could be said of “Ah Ya Mal El Sham” (Oh the Money of Syria), though this time it's David Gossage's flute playing that provides the hypnotic counterpart to the vocal.

Exemplifying the project's experimental nature, “Qala Li Kafa Kafa Kafa Kafa Kafa Kafa” (To Me He Said Enough Enough Enough Enough Enough Enough) incorporates scabrous noise effects generated when the mix passed through a contact mic within Moumneh's mouth. But just as one track might opt for extreme experimentalism, another, such as the unadorned vocal lament “Ta3mani; Ta3meitu” (He Fed Me; I Fed Him), points in a more traditional direction. The occasional experimental treatment aside, If He Dies, If If If If If If is notable for being a surprisingly accessible recording. The listener new to the project might expect such an unusual Arabic-electronic fusion to pose something of a challenge, but the forty-one-minute album's uncluttered arrangements, strong vocal melodies, and concision help make it eminently approachable.

September 2015