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Sun October 13, 2013
First Listen: Omar Souleyman, 'Wenu Wenu'
Originally published on Wed October 23, 2013 9:34 am
Omar Souleyman is the hottest Syrian speaker-slayer at work in the West, with an audience full of serious underground record nerds, as well as stars such as Björk and Damon Albarn. His recordings worked their way into their current post-geographical milieu by way of Sublime Frequencies, an enterprising label devoted to cross-cultural curios from all over the world.
But for Wenu Wenu, Souleyman united with Ribbon Music — and enlisted help on the mixing desk from Four Tet mastermind Kieran Hebden, who splits time between London and New York, as well as points ever-evolving on the pan-global electronic dance scene. The result is a jam so visceral, thrilling and intense as to make the mysterious matter of earthly borders seem hardly worth the time to contemplate.
The title track opens with a blast, pushing strange organic/electronic sounds and serpentine melodies over an industrious beat fit for a street parade. Souleyman sings throughout, sounding like a sensitive gentleman between drags on a cigarette in the studio, and the whole song just keeps accruing and accumulating energy as it stretches to seven minutes. With that, the stage is set for an album that doesn't let up.
If you listen to only 90 seconds of music this year, make them the ones between 1:14 and 2:44 in "Ya Yumma," in which a keyboard solo screams across the sky in ways that need to be heard to be believed. No less formidable, "Nahy" follows with a cataclysmic beat that bangs away and laughs down any desire for variation or change. As sounds of the sort slot into place, the presence of Hebden as a producer is felt, but only subtly so. This is Souleyman's show, to be sure, and it speaks well for the planet that we have a chance to take it in.