Album Review: Suuns and Jerusalem In My Heart

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

The best collaboration projects seem to happen effortlessly. When two masters of their craft come together, both bringing all their respective elements to the table and begin mixing them, oftentimes, they end up with a heterogenous mixture, swinging unevenly between two opposing poles. Some pieces weigh heavily on the side of one artist, while others fall to the second. Thus, the supposed "collaboration" at hand is just a piecemeal effort to forcibly combine two animals that don't belong together. All of the above describes most collaboration projects, but none of it describes what we're given this week from the Montreal team up of Suuns and Jerusalem In My Heart. Last time we saw Suuns, they were painting dystopian Images Du Futur, mixing dark electronic textures with a gritty rock sound for maximum impact. Meanwhile, Radwan Ghazi Moumneh has been expanding his sonic and visual explorations as Jerusalem In My Heart in bigger and braver ways. A champion sonic engineer with a knack for dark ambient textures, Moumneh travels through the year between Montreal, Beirut, and Lebanon, integrating a fascinating mixture of landscapes and cultures into his work. But together, instead of piecing their sounds together side by side, Suuns and Jerusalem In My Heart have made something entirely new, and it is incredible. Almost entirely instrumental, clocking in at about 36 minutes of visceral, vivacious experimental rock, Suuns and Jerusalem In My Heart takes the work of both groups to new heights, and soundtracks a film that exists only in a world apart.

What's most puzzling about this project is how well the two bands have integrated their sounds and approaches. Take "Seif" for instance. Here, Moumneh introduces the track with a haunting hook, heavy with Lebanese influence, before Suuns enter with the percussion and give the hook a rhythm that almost feels like the dirge hip-hop they visited on tracks like "2020". Overlaying the hook with synthesizers and chaotic guitar, the track maintains its Lebanese heart while becoming a western electronic masterpiece. It's in the final half minute of the song when the strong 4/4 bass beat drops where the line between Jerusalem In My Heart and Suuns disappears completely. A similar formula is followed on "Metal", where the central hook maintains an eastern air about it, while the texturing hails to the Montreal roots of both bands. Finally, this mixture of east and west is perfected on "3attem Babey", where a rapturous intro vocal hook is cut and morphed into an absolute burner of a Suuns track. This cyclical variations on a theme piece scorches the earth for almost nine minutes, alone making up almost a quarter of the record time. It's tracks like this where we could see Suuns and Jerusalem In My Heart being an ongoing project with live shows incorporated full time. Given Moumneh's track record for incredibly captivating live A/V, "3attem Babey" would become a pinnacle in his sets.

Elsewhere, Moumneh brings less world music influence and puts on the hat of the sonic engineer, bending and twisting and expanding the Suuns sound to become more ambient and atmospheric while still retaining the driving immediacy we've come to love from them. Both the album's lead single "Gazelles In Flight" and the album opener "2amoutu I7tirakan" operate on the same wavelength, bouncing uneven percussion and drum machines around oscillating synthesizer melodies. "Gazelles In Flight" has notes of Philip Glass at its heart, moving about sporadically, while maintaining a heavy-hearted spirit throughout. Meanwhile, "2amoutu I7tirakan" plays the part of the opening credits, building immense amounts of anticipation over six minutes and exploring all kinds of lush, vibrant terrain. The most Suuns-esque track on the record by far is "In Touch", which feels like a more ambient, self-assured follow up to the moody creepiness of Images Du Futur. Only here and in the third quarter interlude of "Leyla" do we hear Ben Shemie's vocals so forward. As the synth and bass drum beat forward, naked guitar doubles Shemie as he sings "Lord, you're strange... Lord, lord, you've changed". It's all wonderfully moody, unsettling stuff, and some of the best stuff we've heard from Suuns yet. Together with Jerusalem In My Heart, they make this collaboration project a worthy and memorable addition to their excellent discography.

Suuns and Jerusalem In My Heart is out now on Secretly Canadian. Grab it at your local record store on CD or vinyl. Suuns just finished up a string of tour dates with Disappears. There are no plans to tour the record at this time, but check back to Suuns' Facebook page for more information as the year goes on.

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