by: Jarret Lovell
Here Lies Man - 'Here Lies Man' - (Ride Easy Records)
As this album is outstanding and simply one of the most genre-bending releases in some time, I have decided to draw extra attention to it. Their press release asks and answers the following question: What if Black Sabbath played Afrobeat? In short, that’s the underlying vibe to the self-titled debut by Here Lies Man. Founded by L.A.'s own Marcos Garcia of the great afrobeat outfit Antibalas, HLM certainly has West African rhythms throughout and most notably on "I Stand Alone" where incredible fuzz rock and screaming, distorted rock vocals start the song. Two minutes in, the heavy rock begins to fade away to reveal the African rhythm that had been propelling the song forward the entire time. This amazing drum solo (okay, accompanied by minimal organ) lasts the second half of the track. "Eyes of the Law" opens with a driving, fuzz guitar riff, only to be accompanied by organ jamming out a Nigerian-sounding riff (think Fela Kuti). The title track (#8) opens with with an afrobeat rhythm and dubby bass and echoed orgran. Suddenly, fuzz guitar is added, and the track is in full afro/fuzz/dub/rock mode. Suddenly, dstorted vocals announce "Here Lies Man." Indeed. An incredible release that knows no category.
Wicked Dub Division - 'Red' - (wddrooticaldubsession)
Perhaps without anyone paying attention, Italy has established itself as a leading source of cutting edge reggae/dub music. It started with Alborosie. More recently - Earth Beat Movement released a personal favorite with 70BPM. Now, there's Wicked Dub Division's 'Red'. Similar to EBM, the vocalist is female, and the sound electronic. But where EBM borders a bit on dancehall (i.e., toasting vocal style), WDD is more mellow, slowed down vibes. Track #4 "Past, Present and Future" begins with a nice recorder (?) or clarinet sound, opening up to a nice electronic dubby vibe. The following track is a nice jungle mix of the previous track. A nice album. Great RPM/Dub.
Lettuce - 'Mt. Crushmore' - (self release)
Excellent funk with hip-hop beats from this Boston-based ensemble. For an e.p., Mt. Crushmore certainly does leave the listener wanting more. The album begins with the title track, opening with horns that sound like a popular riff that I can't place. A hip-hop beat and bass kick in, along with some great keyboards and a backing vocal chant that sounds almost Middle Eastern. "116th Street" is more straightforward funk with guitar licks, horns, and funky drums. "Elephant Walk" is indeed a slower jam. "Ransom" might be the most classic funk sound on the album, that is - aside from a Syl Johnson cover on "The Love You Left Behind." The album ends with a funky keyboard and beat that lasts a mere 1:16 seconds ("Lude 6"), leaving the listener a bit perplexed as to why a full song wasn't formed around such a fantastic sound. Let's home there's more to come.
Ridgway - 'Brighter Days' - (self release)
There's a lot of reggae-lite coming out theses days - some good, some... Ridgway is good. Quite good. Why? For one, they have something new to offer. The songs are embedded in beautiful guitars and atmosphere. They aren't singing about ganja or trying to sound like a reggae band. Instead, they are a band that enjoys reggae rhythms, beautiful guitar, and they can write songs about things other than generic reggae themes. The album opens with a beautiful instrumental of lush guitars that lead beautifully into track 2, and it isn't until here that the listener gets a sense of reggae. And yes - I do mean sense, as it takes a bit to kick in. When it does, the vibe is nice. Overall, a nice album from this local (CA) band.
Unified Highway - 'Unified Highway' - (self release)
So if we had to link the local reggae movement to a single band, hands down it would be Rebelution. And while some people might be skeptical of a Santa Barbara outfit featuring all white males, once they hear Rebelution's music, they'd change their tone. Over the years, Rebelution established itself a heavyweight in the reggae-lite movement, earning respect from legends such as the one and only Don Carlos. Much of Rebelution's success is due to Eric Rachmany's vocals and guitar playing. Now, Rachmany has teamed with former Zion I producer Amp Live to create a great electronic reggae album. And it's great! Rachmany has never sounded more soulful, and the electronics are not overbearing. This is more a reggae/r&b/rpm blend. Once again, an example of reggae artists that have something new offer to the genre.