Grim, Haunting Lyricism and Strange Synchronicity from Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith
One of this year’s most strangely riveting albums is Mummer Love, by Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith, streaming at Bandcamp. What’s strangest is that its juxtapositions of what would ordinarily seem to be jarringly dissimilar styles of music – sufi chants, minimalist piano music and vintage motorik disco – actually work well together in this context, especially as far as creating hypnotic atmosphere is concerned. And the texts – by Arthur Rimbaud and Smith, who contributes the title track – are shatteringly, relentlessly elegaic.
To open the album, Mulatu Astatke sings Aw Abadir, hushed, low and a-cappella. Philip Glass plays spacious, lightly processed, deep-space piano chords and accents on La Maison de Rimbaud, a mashup of two completely separate tracks, with the steadily fervent Sufi Group of Sheikh Ibrahim encroaching further into the sonic picture. As the piano drifts further and further into minimalism, found sounds – birdsong, street noise, a microvave oven maybe? – coyly flit through the tableau.
The sufis’ gnawa-like call-and-response and Smith’s brightly anticipatory voice get cut and pasted over Glass’ low-key, circling electric piano loop in Eternity, a propulsive motorik groove. Song of the Highest Tower is much the same, but with what appear to be sampled animalian snorts and more enigmatic poetry from Smith: “Just say let go, disappear, without hope of greater joy.”
The title track, a ten-minute rainscape, is Smith at her shattering, existentialist best. “I long to hear that which I have made and then outlive it.” she declares. “I will board a ship with you, a ship to Abyssinia, to descend into the abyss, black hole of universal love.” It gets even better later:
…A visible ink peeling at the edge of my cheek
I danced at the edge of ignorance
I wept impossble dreams
I have melted nothing
I have stood in the warped curve of a life
That should have taken me away
But left me with humankind that I have never been
Everything here is a small offense
Is an attempt to peel another putrid skin
I’ll be ok
In Farewell, a steady, quasi trip-hop groove slowly emerges as Smith intones Rimbaud’s harrowing self-penned obituary:
I tried to invent new flowers, new stars, new flesh, new tongues
I thought I wa acquiring supernatural powers
I must bury my imagination and my memories
An artist storyteller’s precious fame flung away
I called myself Angel
Exempt from all morality
I am returned to the soil with a duty to seek
And a rough reality to embrace
Am I mistaken?
Will charity be the sister of death for me?
At last I shall ask forgiveness
For having fed on lies
Glass plays his signature, glistening arpeggios in tandem with the call-and-response chants of Bad Blood. The album comes full circle with Sensation, a summertime tableau, Glass and Astatke’s contrasting keyboard textures mingling above a steady shuffling acoustic beat. Fans of every style on this record – North African music, serious concert music and ferocious lyricism – will not be disappointed. Look for this on the best albums of 2019 list here at the end of the year.