Snapping into brutal gear with a slice of brightly-coloured post-dancehall rhythms which wouldn’t sound that far out of place on a record by The Bug, Martyr Shrapnel continues the work of the Muslimgauze Preservation Society of bringing the remaining odds and ends of Bryn Jones‘ extensive and still-increasing back catalogue to posthumous light.
The first six tracks previously appeared as Analog Zikr on cassette, and each is identified by that name and a number. By comparison to a lot of later Muslimgauze releases, there is a relatively mimimalist feel to these pieces, and while this may be because they were unfinished at the time of Jones’ death is irrelevant. With their crackling accretions, conversational Arabic snippets and often furious percussion intervals, the album ripples with all the musical tropes for which Muslimgauze is frequently revered, including by the likes of Zion Train, who went so far as to release a collection of his dubs as part of their Inspirational Sounds of… series. But Jones was rarely content to let a simple rhythm lie or to leave a percussion loop unmolested, and there’s also plenty of his trademark disruption and jagged smears of tape-dragging interruption of what could otherwise be a smooth ride on the head-nodding rails to hypnosis.There’s plenty of liquid, deep bass on here, underpinning twanging sitars and sampled vocalisations as well as a slippery mixture of different sound sources, twitters and synth splutters, all of which add up to a potent brew of sounds which stand head and shoulders above the general slew of what generally gets termed as world music. That Muslimgauze albums sometimes show up in the latter section of record shops (where such places still exist) or online stores is likely to provide something of a surprise to the putative casual listener. The five tracks which previously appeared as the Palestina Cache mini-CD are further disrupted, loops stuttering, dropping in and out of the mix precipitously on occasion, while frequently subjected to increasing levels of distortion and work best when lurching disruptively across the stereo soundscape as exercises in (im)pure rhythm and texture collaged into something far more interesting. The continuing evolution of dubstep and the success of acts such as Shackleton (another Muslimgauze fan) demonstrate that the sound of certain sections of electronic music have also caught up to and learned from where Jones was when he recorded these tracks more than a decade and a half ago.
As ever, the political aspect of Jones’ work is explicitly presented here, from the grenade stamped on the cover to the cut-out cardstock Free Syrian Army and Syrian Arab Army models printed on one of the inserts, while others include stickers calling for a free Syria and of a defaced portrait of Bashar al-Assad. Obviously, with Jones long dead, his opinion on the specifics of the ongoing Syrian uprising, the so-called Arab Spring, or for that matter the Libyan civil war and the rise and hunting down of Al Qaeda are ultimately unknowable; but his firm, all-encompassing commitment to using his music to highlight the oppression of the populations of the Muslim world by their own governments or outside forces was well documented.It would perhaps be easy on a first listen for a Muslimgauze aficionado to dismiss some of the tracks here as being not much more that offcuts and the detritus of a legacy which cycles around again and again in different guises. However, the MPS have done an excellent job here in presenting what could be regarded as an archival edition of these pieces, and given the rate at which Jones churned out mixes, remixes and new works it remains a considerable surprise just how well most of his less available output stands up. It’s also traditional when writing about music brought to light long after the end of a career to dismiss th release as not being for newcomers, or for hardcore enthusiasts only; Martyr Shrapnel manages to overcome the temptation to deploy that caveat in the main, though the last three “Martyr Shrapnel” tracks of displaced loop and rhythm ambience are perhaps less engaging over time.
-Antron S Meister-