The Moroccan-born, New York-based artist's LP is a satisfyingly trippy club record with nods to her Arab roots.
Much of Abd's discography has fallen into relatively familiar genre categories, whether she's exploring icy techno, ragged synth pop or throbbing industrial sounds. Middle Ouest stands somewhat apart, thanks to the instrumentation and ideas within and its evocative title, which points to the "sonic autobiography" attempted by the Moroccan-born artist. Between the echoes of Abd's previous work and the explicit musical links to her Arab roots, the album appears to be constantly in conversation with itself. Abd has called it "an ode to my history, present and future self."
In addition to the autobiographical theme, Middle Ouest is notable for its generous use of hand drums. That endlessly satisfying palm-to-skin thwack animates several of the album's best tracks, including the cacophonous "Middle Ouest." A loose collage of shifting percussion, the opening cut feels tactile yet hostile, like a satisfyingly violent back rub. "Amazon Snake Charming" is another special moment, shrouding tabla rolls in smoky spools of strange tones to disorienting (and, if you like, dis-orienting) effect. "Gaza Border Violence" tunes into longwave echoes of Arabic melodies before crushing them with martial drums, coming off like Levon Vincent at his most belligerent and romantic. And "Faith Game" captures several of Abd's personal signatures in one seductive movement—hand drums, a whisper of her own voice and a gentle rain of icy bleeps all orbit a spooky reversed sample, the kind of thing that could once have been the spark of a Noah '40' Shebib beat.
Elsewhere, Abd fills in the gaps of her sonic autobiography with elements of rave and techno history. "L'algorithme" has a funky skip to its late-night step. "La Rave" is a freehand sketch of hard acid and sultry synth-pop. And the decaying drips of "Otology" are a Drexciyan ice sculpture melting in the Moroccan sun. Plenty of tracks bear less obvious relation to the title, which of course is suggestive of Abd's own relationship to her identity. Like any good Deleuzian, she's more interested in living her own process of constantly coming-into-being than pinning herself to fixed points, ideas, narratives or genres. But the thrill of Middle Ouest does have something to do with its tangible concept. For those still looking for a way into Bergsonism, it may be the best expression yet of Abd's amorphous, intuitive and personal approach.