Portlandia’s outernational Boomarm Nation coaxes El Mahdy Jr. out of hiding again with his follow up to the aqueous, found-sound beat collages of The Spirit of Fucked Up Places in the spiritual twin of Time to Sell the Golden Teeth. In a 2014 Vice article, El Mahdy Jr, nee El-Mahdi Rezoug spoke about creating his previous album saying that;
“. . . the sort of mundane stuff most people might overlook but which is full of creative potential when your mind is open to it. That’s the feeling I really try to translate in my music.”
Sounds welded together from field recordings, burned CDs of live Raï performances, dusty records of Arabesque music, hip-hop by way of French satellite TV, and the spirit of Scratch Perry inform what Rezoug called “North African dub music”, which was born out of a need to find an answer to his question;
“What if dub was born in Algeria or the Middle East, what would it sound like?”
While dub and King Tubby’s legacy inform most of El Mahdy’s work, what really constitutes most of his oeuvre is good old fashioned hip-hop with its fascination with sampling and “steal[ing] the spirit of a song”. Taking elements from the aforementioned DNA strands and building something akin to trip-hop lay at the heart of Time to Sell the Golden Teeth as well as his previous work. Evocative of specific places yet seemingly emerge from a void, Time to Sell the Golden Teeth is built from various things, much like any golden era hip-hop record. I’m tempted to make a comparison to RZA’s affinity for sampling Kung-Fu dialogue and Asian instruments, or the dank claustrophobia of Tricky’s Maxinquaye LP, but such an analogies seems cheap at best. A closer approximation on how Rezoug builds comes from his Quietus article with Sophie Coletta when he describes his track “Anti-Hero” which was soldered together from;
“. . . a speech from the 70s by Ruhi Su, an Alawi Saz singer, about a politician who divides his nation. It creeps in over a loop of a misshapen police siren, interspersed with shouts of crowds as they splutter and cough through the engulfing tear gas – audio recorded by Rezoug directly from news coverage of the protests in Istanbul.”
So in a sense Time to Sell the Golden Teeth as well as The Spirit of Fucked Up Places are compromised of the same aesthetic data that made hip-hop and trip-hop great, but they come from a different musical tradition and history. This is especially apparent of the track “Baat’in” which features the rapping of HAMORABI 13th IMAM. I wish to understand the lyrics. What stays the same is the the torpid BPMs, a tension that swirls between the spaces, and a willingness to smack together disparate sounds to create something more than the sum of its parts.
As easy as it is for me to review each track piece meal and come to a conclusion, I found myself listening to Time to Sell the Golden Teeth in its entirety while going about my day. Clocking in at just under forty minutes, the album easily washes over and acts almost as ambient background music. Voices from the aether would emerge only to get swallowed by sludge-like beat structures – sounds from places I’ll never visit appear and swirl with the larger world, each track bleeding into the next. Overall, bits and pieces from each track became highlights rather than any one specific track, which gets at the heart of what Rezoug does; showing you the spirit of a song. Evocative and moody yet warm and inviting, like passing your old childhood house and wondering about the new lives that have live there.