Photo: A. Joseph Yarmush

Jerusalem in My Heart: If He Dies, If If If If If If

Perhaps the most mournful album of 2015.

Jerusalem in My Heart is a swirling, confounding affair. To think of it as a musical act is to undercut the group’s ethos. To even call it a group might be too much of a label. Radwan Ghazi Moumneh is the only permanent, central figure to it all. Moumneh was born in Lebanon, but found his way into the Canadian music scene, setting up shop in Québec, with yearly voyages to Beirut and Lebanon. Including If He Dies, If If If If If If, JIMH only has three full lengths, including a split project with Canadian trip-pop weirdos Suuns. Add to all of this that Montreal filmmaker Charles-André Coderre tries to provide a visual backdrop to Moumneh’s music, and JIMH, on paper, turns into a project that could be strangled by pretension.

Thankfully JIMH is signed to Canadian stalwarts Constellation Records, who seem incapable of putting out bad experimental music. The DNA of Moumneh’s music might come from another continent, but it fits well alongside peers Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Colin Stetson.

If He Dies is based off a duality: the twitchy, electronic songs devoid of a human voice, and the stark calls to meditation that use Moumneh’s haunting vocals. Opener “Al Affaq Lau Mat Lau” is a chilling way to set the mood, with Moumneh multi-tracking his voice, pushing down low mummers to the background of the sound, creating an eerie effect as his lead vocal reaches to the limit of his range. The seven minute long “A Granular Buzuk” follows, removing Moumneh’s voice, implanting a poking synth below rising strings. What at first appears to be a small, tranquil piece soon erupts, all tactile instruments are overtaken and burned by a roaring and shimmering sound that’s damn near unqualifiable and certainly unpredictable.

If He Dies mostly follows this formula to a powerful effect. There’s something sorrowful about the sequencing, as Moumneh’s tired, pleading calls are followed by noise devoid of human touch. Beyond that is something verging on terrifying: Moumneh often opens the instrumental songs with strings or guitars, only for their sounds to be consumed by electronic buzz or groans. If He Dies might encapsulate the feeling of loneliness better than any other album in 2015.

There are breaks from the usual equation. “Lau Ridyou Bil Hijaz” has Moumneh softly murmuring over a wayward synth and steady percussion. Much of the albums calls to introspection has a ring of fear to it, but “Lau Ridyou” has a bit more breathing room, and is one of the album’s beautiful moments. There’s also the dusty flute opening of “Ah Ya Mal El Sham” which proves to be a perfect background for Moumneh’s cries, creating a sorrowful duet.

If He Dies closes on a fittingly somber note. “2asmar Sa7ar” features only two things, the sounds of an ocean eating away at a beach and Moumneh’s buzuk. The buzuk’s notes are rapid, but contain a sinking weight, punctuated by breaks in the sound, where only the ocean’s constant ebb and flow remains. The final slow on the buzuk is virtuosic, but, still, there is only the ocean to greet its wonderful playing. If He Dies is music for mourning, and not in a contained, airbrushed fashion. It has rage, denial, and grief throughout. It’s not always pretty, but it always strives to be potent.

RATING 7 / 10
Call for Music Reviewers and Essayists
Call for Music Reviewers and Essayists