By most meaningful measures, the controversial Sublime Frequencies label hasn’t released anything quite as successful as Highway to Hassake, a 2007 comp culled from the cassette recordings of Syrian impresario Omar Souleyman. SubFreq usually trafficks in anonymous field recordings and dial scans; Hassake distinguished itself by orbiting one gen-yew-wine pop star, a man with ego and personality, who is currently touring Europe.
Souleyman’s star appeal aside, much of the record bears a striking resemblance to hardcore club music. It uses downbeat-heavy tracked percussion. The bandleader calls and responds to a wheezing synth. Aside from that, there ain’t much else going down except frenetic rhythms and emphatic chanting. “To the American ear,” wrote Dusted’s Ben Yaster, “it is music for gyrating.”
From a distance, Dabke 2020, the second Souleyman collection in a series, certainly might look like a quick cash-in. Hassake covered a sprawling 10 years of dude’s career. Dabke 2020 is less ambitious: Nothing predates ’99, everything was recorded live, and its eight tracks clock in at a scant 40 minutes. But, for Souleyman’s expanding fanbase, it may prove equally essential.
For on Dabke 2020, Souleyman sounds even more like a Middle Eastern DJ Kool. He’s always been more the hypeman than the singer, and here he’s even less melodic and more pumped. Likewise, the music is even more raw and bloody. Sometimes, it’s almost too abrasive to be party music. (Almost.) The high-speed machine-gun funk of “I Will Make a Trap,” for instance – I mean, it’s practically spazzcore. Even the more identifiably “foreign” stuff, such as the slinky “Jamila (Beautiful Woman)” and the beatless incantation “Atabat (A Style of Sung Folk Poetry),” explodes with anthemic energy.
Dabke 2020 is harder, more urgent and more fun. Hassake almost sounds commercial in comparison. The party don’t stop here until “Kaset Hanzal (Drinking From the Glass of Bitterness),” the album’s long, moody, hypnotic closer.