Album review: “Ensenity” — Emel Mathlouthi

Album review: “Ensenity” — Emel Mathlouthi
Emel Mathlouthi (AFP)
Updated 17 March 2018

Album review: “Ensenity” — Emel Mathlouthi

Album review: “Ensenity” — Emel Mathlouthi

Emel Mathlouthi has long endured, and enjoyed, comparisons to Björk, and the daring, dazzling Tunisian singer-songwriter’s latest release will do little to plug the current. “Ensenity” is a collection of “reworkings” based on her acclaimed second album, 2017’s “Ensen” — a tasty, guest-produced coda arriving little more than a year after the main event.

There is a distinctly Björk-ish feel to this turn: It was the Icelandic icon who popularized the remix album more than 20 years ago with “Telegram” — a collection of guest remixes of Björk’s own second album, “Post” — and she has proceeded to release alternative and/or live versions of all but two of her eight “proper” albums to date. But “Ensenity” is pointedly a collection of “reworkings” – not “remixes” — presumably to highlight that many of these fresh takes tout newly recorded, or perhaps deleted, instrumental layers, rather than strictly electronic trickery.

Built around beats, vamps and dirges, but perennially stained with searing vocal laments soaring above the audio storm, the stark, primal music of “Ensen” is genetically suited to the endeavor. Reworked by Cubenx, the tribal drive of “Ensen Dhaif” is stripped down and spaced out, Mathlouthi’s processed cries emerging from a misty fog somewhere in the distance.

Most often, the strategy is to magnify an existing element of a track, elevating the micro to macro. The trip-hop influences already evident in “Sallem,” for example, are further massaged by the live drums driving Free the Robots’ groovier, moodier take. The jagged, unnervingly relentless riffing of “Thamlaton,” however, is disappointedly diluted by Karim Attoumane’s overwrought, spooky sci-fi effects and misplaced barrage of emo guitar.

Oddly the more introspective material fares best: In Ash Koosha’s hands, the mellow invocation of “Kaddesh” is sped up, imbued with disorientating subterranean warbles and glitches, while the reflective electro-simmer of “Layem” takes shades of mature, minimal R&B, courtesy of Muudra, without sacrificing an atom of the emotional urgency which defines Mathlouthi’s singular songwriting.