Tunisian drumming music with heavy metal for an album best defined as party music for meditation.
Fans of improvisational music—especially from non-European centers—should already be well-acquainted with Glitterbeat Records. Releases from Noura Mint Seymali and 75 Dollar Bill have seen the most press, but less-publicized albums from Sonido Gallo Negro or the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra were equals in musical performance and artistic creativity. The label’s signature is their artists’ globally liberal use of sounds and styles, with American rock and improvisation casually trading off with Brazilian jazz, Nigerian percussion or Congolese pop. The label’s latest is from Ifriqiyya Electrique, a multi-continental group of musicians who mix Tunisian drumming music with heavy metal for an album best defined as party music for meditation.
Laylet el Borree is dominated by a riff-centric approach. Whatever complex percussive background or vocal interplay may make up each track, crushing guitar and keyboard melodies are most prominent. “He Eh Lalla” is driven by a massive group figure that wouldn’t sound out-of-place from Electric Wizard or Baroness. The same could be said for “Mabbrooka.” While these bury the expert group percussion playing under walls of traditional rock sounds, “Danee Danee” focuses entirely on interlocking rhythms and vocal performances, making it easier to truly get lost in. Curiously, after a minute of silence that follows the album proper, the lengthy hidden track “Galoo Sahara Laleet El Aeed” employs a house kick drum, sending the overtly rockist album off with a danceable groove.
Unfortunately, technical aspects may interfere with enjoyment. The production, mixing, choice of instrumental tone and similar aspects often feel at odds with the creative messages sent by the performances and writing: Overuse of compression and a constantly crowded mix can make this album feel a bit like a homogenous onslaught of sound. Even its sparsest moments, like the brief vocal piece “Wa Salaat Alih Hannabee Mohammad,” feel stiff in their constant maximums. What would be a welcome bit of rest among the chaos instead feels like another blast of energy, to the point where the album feels almost tired by its end.
These production misfires are particularly damning on “Moola Nefta,” which is one of the more structurally invigorating tracks here. Beginning with a simple duet between an electronic hi-hat and a single vocalist, the remaining musicians slowly enter until the full ensemble embarks on a steady, endless tempo increase. By the end of the track, the sense of exhilarating tension is so high that the split second of silence between this cut and the next is like taking a quick, deep breath before diving back under. Since the mix is constantly punching at a peak, though, the gradual increase in speed, volume and energy doesn’t land nearly as hard as it should, leaving “Moola” feeling like a sorely missed opportunity.
More than signaling an error on the part of the technicians or musicians, the minor disappointment of the recorded product speaks to the inability of this medium to capture Ifriqiyya Electrique’s sound. The sweaty energy that each musician is pouring into these tracks is nearly tactile, and moments like the rapid eighth note groove on the front end of “Habeebee Hooa Jooani” is much better heard in person. The commercial product gives geographically-estranged listeners a chance to experience music that, likely, resembles little they’re familiar with. Still, the music on Laylet el Booree is ill-fit for laptop speakers or tinny earbuds—the bass should upset your stomach, the booming percussion should make your heart skip. This album is more than worth your listening time, but seeing this group in a proper live setting might even be worth the cross-continental travel.