One expects something called Rough Americana to drop a huge, discordant load on the White House’s gasoline dream, or at least nudge something subversive and shifty. Instead, this improvised set by Brooklyn-by-way-of-Egypt-by-way-of-the-world DJ Mutamassik and guitarist Morgan Craft—teammates in Greg Tate’s Burnt Sugar thingamajig—is all mystery and bleating sonic in-jokes. The politics are left to the song titles, and other than a stray recognizable sample (Sun Ra, the Godzilla-fearing horn blast from Pharoahe Monch’s “Simon Says,” some French), RA‘s message is in the medium: harum-scarum, occasionally deafening but more often quiet, and free of design or center.
Unfortunately it’s a rather thick message to get, and the bulk of RA is too splintery and shard-like. Loud blasts give way to tentative, squirmy scrapes while powerful Middle Eastern folk choruses bark at airlifted dub poets; marching nations are trampled by Mutamassik’s jungle breaks and Craft’s spurting guitar. The jump cuts add spirit—war is jumpy and nervy, we know—but lose the big picture; we’re playing for hearts and minds, not attention span.
Where her improvised set is coy and tricky, Mutamassik’s new mix CD, Bidoun, is true grit. She sifts and roots for the giant, clanging sound of fallen empire, leaving the rough and taped edges showing. The transitions are sudden; the blends are resistant, reluctant. MCs from New York go elbow-to-elbow with MCs from the Middle East, while timeless, wandering chants find common step with Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA or warbling blurts of white noise. It’s disorienting and charming—not exactly one happy family, but a family nonetheless—and it all bleeds into a slurry, punky pool of rhythm oil. The message here is much clearer: Rhythm saves, and it feels the same in Brooklyn or Dubai.