- Of all the artists dismantling grime in recent years, Fatima Al Qadiri has been among the most transformative. She's used the bones of a largely aggressive sound to explore the exquisite loneliness of digital culture, unpack the fetishization of warfare in the Western world and, with Asiatisch, interrogate Orientalism. Even when the execution was shaky, these conceptual records revealed how the elements of club music could be used to other ends. What was also remarkable about Al Qadiri was how she got her points across with more or less the same set of sounds. On Brute, her second full-length for Hyperdub, she returns to her trusty tools, but they now seem obsolete.
Brute focuses on the diminishing power of protest in the Western world, and is particularly inspired by the recent events surrounding police brutality in America. If the cover, an altered Josh Kline work depicting a Teletubby in a police uniform, didn't make the theme obvious enough, then opener "Endzone" will. It starts with a recording of a police unit trying to stop a protest with an LRAD, a sound weapon that beams concentrated blasts of uncomfortable noise. Layered with Al Qadiri's ominous atmospheres and grim melodies, the effect is chilling.
"Endzone" is a promising start, and it points to how Al Qadiri could have run with her subject matter to create her most affecting album yet. But "Blood Moon" and "Breach" are such basic examples of her sound—choral pads, icy grime melodies, brooding basslines—that they have a deflating effect. They could have been lifted from any of Al Qadiri's past records, which is something you can say for most of Brute. Interesting wrinkles appear here and there, like the vaporwave atmospheres of "Aftermath" and the delicate string plucks in "Fragmentation," but they're all delivered with the same blank-faced dread. The idea was to get across "atmospheres of rage and despair," as Al Qadiri said in an interview, but Brute only achieves unease.
In a different interview, Al Qadiri explained that she didn't want to drown the album in samples. Instead, she "wanted the bare minimum just to illustrate the context, to set the tone." The problem is that those samples are the only thing separating Brute from her past work. Sure, this one can be more claustrophobic and ambient, but those qualities reflect the record's gestation—made in isolation, while Al Qadiri was immobilised due to a knee injury—more than its theme. It's no coincidence that when she does use samples, like the sirens on "Curfews" or the speech from ex-LAPD sergeant Cheryl Dorsey on "Power," even such basic devices make the music more memorable. Otherwise, we're given titles like "10-34" and "Oubliette," words that gesture towards a theme without providing substance.
Brute's most interesting flourishes are all surface-level. Take them away and you're left with Al Qadiri reusing the same musical ideas. It's clear from her interviews and previous projects that she aims to be a critical force in dance music, but Brute feels too shallow for what's behind it.
02. Blood Moon