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On her followup to 2017's "Shaneera", Fatima Al Qadiri dematerializes into a k-holed fever dreamscape, rotoscoping classical Arab poetry and breathing new life into secret histories. It's properly singular material that unveils a mystical connexion between early music and the sensual, hyperreal worlds Al Qadiri has been navigating since "Desert Strike".
Al Qadiri's productions have always been uncompromisingly futuristic, from the spiraling, plastique mallbient of genre-shifting early banger 'Shaytan' to 2017's "Shaneera", a ballroom-flecked celebration of history's evil queens. Here she time-shifts a few centuries into the past, using the classical poems of Arab women to galvanize a suite of echoingly spare songs that sound like music from the courts of the Abbāsid Caliphate after a decadent cybernetic makeover. It's daring stuff, approaching her canon's sensual thrust of Middle Eastern and contemporary near-collapse Western influences with impressive prudence.
It was while writing the soundtrack to French Senegalese director Mati Diop's 2019 movie "Atlantics" that Al Qadiri trialed many of the ideas foundational to "Medieval Femme". "Atlantics" was a ghost story rooted in the contemporary world, while "Medieval Femme" is a contemporary story that breathes life into the past, like an eerie robotic diorama or a meticulously hyperreal 3D modeled virtual world. These concepts aren't completely new for Al Qadiri, but her command of narrative has clearly been refined; it would be trite to call "Medieval Femme" a soundtrack to an imaginary movie (it ain't post rock, luv), but it undoubtedly tells a story.
Evocative medieval instrumentation sits at the heart of the album, often completely unadorned, but is disrupted periodically by electronics. Sometimes a synthesizer mimics a flute or vocal part, and occasionally a vocal will cut through the ether before sparse, club-lite percussion reminds us we're in the 21st century. It's a balancing act that Al Qadiri masters without sacrificing the sparse fallibility of her most enduring work.
A melancholy tribute to historic yearning, "Medieval Femme" is Al Qadiri's most rewarding album to date, and one of the most unique and unusual records we've heard this year so far. Think Dariush Dolat-Shahi, contemporary bardcore YouTube covers, Michael Nyman, Björk, Aïsha Devi, Arca... yeah.