Sycophant Of Purdah

Release date: February 20, 2009

"Part of Staalplaat's ongoing Muslimgauze archive series, Sycophant of Purdah was submitted in 1994 then “replaced” by another master Bryn Jones felt more fit for release. Sycophant then languished in the vaults until present, nearly a decade after Jones' passing. It is no secret that Jones was a prolific artist and that numerous labels combined could not keep up with his output and will take several more years more for them to do so.
Sycophant opens with a radio broadcast on the on-going Palestinian crisis set to breakbeats and marmalade-thick bass lines; the forward to another sonic treatise on struggles of the Muslim world. Tracks that follow are more consistent with Industrial stylings of the Muslimgauze oeuvre including Zealot, Blue Mosque, Silknoose and Izlamaphobia. Industrial, in the context of Muslimgauze, is often characterized by tightly woven percussion loops with scant variance while melodies hover. Additionally,  tracks like “Radif, Avaz And Dastgah” and “Mossad Evil” are another facet of Industrial, Industrial in the classic sense of the word meaning, 'mechanical', 'machine like', with little in the way of melodic overtones. The commonality is rigorous, dogmatic structure that are nonetheless hypnotic and engaging. Because the above albums vary, despite being of the same sub-genre, Sycophant could be considered a 'missing link' that ties them together—with ethno-breaks added for variance. None of the track listings, handwritten by Jones, are repeated on any other release hence Sycophant of Purdah is a 'must have' for fans and collectors."

Text by Ibrahim Khider, author of "Muslimgauze: Chasing the Shadow of Bryn Jones"

The following appears on Brainwashed.

Bryn Jones had a work ethic that verged on frightening and supernatural. Despite his death at the relatively young age of 38, he managed to complete over 90 albums (not counting reissues). Unsurprisingly, the handful of hapless record labels that supported him during his life could not possibly keep up with the deluge of material that he continuously submitted. As a result, Muslimgauze continues to be one of the most prolific entities in music, despite the fact that its sole member has been dead for a decade now. Much more striking is the fact that the vaults still contain some great and fully realized material.

Bryn Jones completed Sycophant Of Purdah ("Purdah" is the practice of preventing women by being seen by any men that are not their husbands) in 1994, but he changed his mind after submitting it and decided to release a different album in its place. It is amusing that he had to pick and choose which albums would actually see release, as he still managed to put out six that year (two of which were double albums).  Jones' biographer Ibrahim Khider describes Purdah as the "missing link" that connects Muslimgauze's more industrial albums (Izlamaphobia, Zealot, Silknoose, etc.).  I will have take his word for that, as acquiring my own comprehensive understanding of Muslimgauze's creative arc would delay this review several months.  (On a related note, there is a Muslimgauze biography being released by SAF Publishing in April.  This arouses genuine excitement in me, as I have long found Jones to be one of the most compelling and bizarre figures in contemporary culture.)

The aberrant opener, "Jericho Loop-Bin Duplicator," combines a decidedly non-Middle Eastern-sounding breakbeat with a thick, funky bass line.  Bryn Jones clearly came to party, as the only clue that this is even Muslimgauze at all is that indecipherable (presumably Arabic) radio broadcast snippets keep wandering into the mix.  Despite the general absence of weirdness/darkness, it is a pretty awesome and heavy groove.

While the playful and funky tone of "Jericho Loop-Bin Duplicator" is unique to that track, it still fits comfortably with the rest of Purdah in being heavily (almost exclusively) rhythmic.  In fact, musical accompaniment on this album is extremely minimal and mostly limited to vague ambiance buried low in the mix.  I initially thought this made the album feel like a series of very repetitive and sparse unfinished song sketches, but after a few listens I found Purdah to be quite compelling and hypnotic.  Also, when I eventually listened to it with headphones, I realized the percussive loops were not completely static and that constant subtle shifts were occurring in and around them.

The whole album is quite strong, but I found the harsher, more industrial tracks to be more immediately memorable and engrossing than the ethno-percussion ones (although the addition of droning sitar and speech fragments in "Dupatta" stands out quite nicely).  "Mossad Evil" combines a heavy, rumbling groove with some sort of strange liquid-y sucking sound and a somber violin loop, while the title track transforms Arabic percussion into a crushing and insistent mechanized groove with a somewhat shrill wavering tone panning around deep in the mix. 

I am a bit curious about what Jones was trying to convey thematically with this album.  Historically, I have completely disregarded the political aspect of Muslimgauze, but I have since become fascinated upon learning that Jones issued albums almost as real-time reactions and commentaries on unfolding Middle Eastern events.  Now that albums conceived in the distant past are being released, I was expecting an odd temporal disconnection. I didn't find one here, but neither could I find a unifying theme among the song titles (traditional Persian music and poetry, Indian scarves, the Mossad, genetic engineering, etc). Enigmatic. 

Sycophant of Purdah is a worthy addition to the Muslimgauze oeuvre.  It is certainly less melodic, strange, and dark than many of Jones' more celebrated releases, but it is also extremely listenable and mesmerizing.  I hope the rest of albums sifted from Jones' mountainous backlog of material for Staalplaat's archive series are similarly excellent—this release makes it clear that they are far from scraping the bottom of the Muslimgauze vault.

written by Anthony D'Amico (March 23, 2009)
Brainwashed

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