Acid Arab – Jdid

Written on October 8, 2019 by Vladimir Voinovski

Jdid is the highly acclaimed Acid Arab’s new album featuring a plethora of supporting and featured artists on 9 of its 11 stellar tracks. Most of the tracks’ lyrics are sang in a verisimilitude of Arabic dialects and accentuated languages, which give it a fresh authenticity supported by grandiosely sharp mixing and mastering, making the songs well-rounded standalones. Having this in mind, the album caters to an audience expecting a feel for double harmonic scales, liquid danceable electronica, and an enchanting flavor beaming one into a universe where techno and Middle Eastern sounds form a combine. From start to finish, the album never loses its vibe – without switching between melancholic and energetic – and manages to compel its listeners to crack the ossification of their body and allow themselves to move with the ebb and flow of life and enlightenment. The album art, in comparison to the previous Acid Arab splash studio album cover Musique De France, has a blended metallic overlay with their staple logo conquering the background, alluding to the bolstering and refining of their tenured fingerprint in the techno scene. This strength also shows the altruistic nature of Acid Arab, allowing the new or underground artists featured to spread their wings through the exposure of skill, talent, and creativity that truly makes this album a collaborative bulwark of modern electronica.
Straight off the bat, Staifia paints the picture of the interior within one of the main sultans’ huts, adorned with Arabic drapes, red lanterns, belly dancers, incense sticks and censers, as the Western listener is hauled off to a new cultural experience, whereas the Eastern one feels a sense of poignancy and comfort. The timpani in the background already emphasize the calm yet foreboding, powerful yet recessive, and melodic yet rhythmic tone of the opening track. One can already notice a perfect balance between electronic and traditional, for the bass and percussive elements embody the modern, and the leading instruments the cultural. The beauty of this track lies in the female vocals which are on the same wavelength of importance, for the woodwind zurna interchanges with the singing to create a melodic dominance without overpowering the song by adding too many elements.

Electrique Yarghol starts off with a rolling synth bass line typical of darkwave techno, jumping from a low to a high register keeping the song afloat. However, the bagpipes that creep in the background, later to be brought out in the foreground, feel as if they are keeping the djinni spirits alive during the progression. The percussive elements and drums pay homage to a trip-hop Massive Attack style with their sinister-sounding tom-then-snare 4/4 groove. This second track shares the same method of song craftsmanship as the introductory track in that both build up the track by stacking layers atop one another; never completely abolishing one of the previous layers already introduced. Lastly, just when you thought that maybe the song is conquered by repetition, the very much needed dynamic break at 4:49 returns the progression to the same motif without losing its frenzy. All these well-woven elements create the perfect musical soundtrack to a nocturnal Dakar derby at the treacherous dunes of the Nairobi desert.

Nassibi is the next phase in slowly seducing the Western listener to plunge into 6/8 time signatures unique for Arabian style music. Straightforward and pulsating, this track use the same motifs from the two songs prior in order to rectify the monolithic you-get-what-is-advertised mood that we’ve known to expect from Acid Arab. Most Middle Eastern melodies within this song are synthesized and given more life by pitch bending notes, with the amplitude mapped crescendo and decrescendo in the background every time the darbuka takes over like a tunnel in-between the road to Morocco that this song phantasmagorically manifests.

Club DZ is the first song where a featuring artist is not present, thematically also lacking vocals, allowing the music itself to take the listener over as well as provide him with respite from vocals and a regression to pure electronica. Alongside this, Acid Arab show their mastery of subtle variety by allowing the percussion to lead the song, and melody serving as a loop element to support the mathematical progression of the song. With the introduction of the tabla (also known as a darbuka) the song turns to a blade song – one that has a conquering sharpness to it and swings like a war chant. However, Club DZ being made without any supporting artists appeals as an interlude and possible slope into the next track Rimitti Dor, which returns to a 4/4 signature and carries with it a rhythmic atmosphere that can perfectly festoon a thriller film. The slow-motion delayed drums remind one of time lapses, allowing it the perfect accolade as a song for synchronized dancing. The rhythm, when compared to the previous tracks, is syncopated to add a more restrained and dampened sound. Instead of it being dominating and powerful like the previous tracks, it takes a more defensive approach with a sly utilization of stringed bass in the background.

In Rajel, the bass enters in a droned fashion, creeping slowly in order to create tension, while the melodic instruments in the foreground release it. The effects echoing in the peripheral sound field around the song give it a sinister appeal, all the better to maintain the ominous tension created by the ever-increasing synth drone bass. At 2:19 the rhythm continues with clapping and the drums stop to insinuate a sudden break of tension but only for a short moment, following the motif of “the calm before the storm”. During its peak, the same bass re-enters with tambourine and bongos in the background to conjure the final stand-off crescendo before an extraterrestrial sonic arpeggio enters, toppled with the sonar atmospheric effects from the middle of the song in order to revitalize the repetition from the main verses of the song and forge it in a new form.
The drum bass on Soulan reminds me of the main rhythmic themes in bands like Agar Agar, however in a much more lethargic manner, the drone low-pitch cricket adds a layer of mystery to the song. The most substantial element of this song is its harmonic triangulation within the double harmonic scale that it oscillates. Jumping from a perfect fourth to a minor second, and finally reaching the major seventh, Soulan employs every paradigm in the Hijaz Kar musical scale notation, with vocals serving as a background support to round-off the chant-like behavior of the track. Conclusively, the rising tides of implementing strings into this album reaches a peak with their timbre being reproduced electronically in order to make it, in a very poetically justified glamour, acidic.

Was Was, the second of the delinquent duo of Jdid’s featuring artist perfect circle, is noticeably different from the start. With a subterranean groove in the staccato bass, this track stands out from the rest in its sonic homage to abrasive IDM. Again, a solo Acid Arab song in this album is underscored by the lack of vocals, allowing it to focus more on the variety of singular melodic and percussive elements. The best way to describe Was Was, as a standalone track and in relation to its sibling tracks, is as a polished pastiche, where every separate line is its own individual vanguard of sound. Symbiosis is not at play, hence when every single element can be sharply discerned as separate, a song becomes a collage of personal experiences and attempts at transcribing a mood into audible nourishment, which is exactly what Acid Arab have done in isolating the 9th track from the overarching thesis of the album: Arabian sounds.

Ejma’s bass rolls like a boulder down a hill in a valley far away from an Algerian city, allowing it a more mellow reputation. The singing is replaced with reciting, making this song a spoken word of Arabic poetry, where the dominant theme of the melody does not change, but instead is recreated during intervals in different VST effects and timbres, and rises like a gradient towards setting up the stage for the final offensive in this album: Ras El Ain.
The second last song in this compendium, gaining the title of last song of the saga, introduces itself like a flamboyant sultan lampooned in golden ornate accessories and high-class fabrics with a vibrato pitch bend bass. Following the dynamic of the zurna, the rhythm plays it safe but firm with a clap at the end of every 4/4 bar. Imagine a 16-bit Persian world drafted into the interface of a video game, where Ras El Ain is the guardian to the final temple in which the boss is faced. Reflecting the previous song like twisted, curved mirror, the 10th track gives you a shot at exonerating your soul from the Arabic theme lingering throughout this whole experience in exchange for retro synth vibes, switching the nostalgia effect to fall onto the hands of Western listeners, and not Eastern ones.

Finally, the most far-removed song from this saga, comes Malek Ya Zahri – the answered prayers to the retro downgrade prophecy from the previous song, the final boss in the video game. The most 80s retro-sounding of them all, it perfectly fulfills its role as an outro in the aspects of both a cliffhanger, and a foreshadowing device that might hint at the type of their next album. The synth makes it sound like an audible vision of a Miami nightclub in 1984, but the heavy auto tuned vocals purge it into donning an underground and under-produced shroud of appearance – created by the masses of a pioneering techno movement themselves. Furthermore, it is the only song that has a pop-hit structure where the chorus, verse, and bridge are separate and accountable. The auto tune that is present only decorates, albeit as a hyperbole, something that would sound too carbon for Acid Arab. It stays true to the classic western-style structure of songs that it even offers catharsis with a synth solo: sleek, enchanting, and guerilla. The bass itself is a lick, not a loop, with a strong synth overlay, whereas the drums have running phase effects, panting an image of a robotized band playing the songs with state-of-the art technocratic instruments at the remnants of a collapsed 2D Arabic civilization.
Overall, the album stands at the forefront of Eastern-style techno like a firm monolith, distancing itself from any precarious attempts at experimentation with rhythm, which might give it an emblem of timidity, however in miniscule amounts when the context and purpose behind the album is considered.
Acid Arab have refined their sound with this album, showing great technical development and improvement from Musique De France, proving their mastery over the Arabian techno trope with the strong musical Tower of Babel that is Jdid.