Friday, August 29, 2014

Coming Soon #85: Fox Catcher

If you pay any attention to music on the digital side, particularly the music we cover around here, then you've certainly ran into the work of the ultra-active Fox Fuse who constantly have something new just around the corner. Today we take an exclusive look at what exactly is on the horizon, in September, from the very active and very colourful distributor. 

{Note: If anyone at Fox Fuse wanted to thank us by… oh maybe sending us free stuff, especially the first entry on this post, we wouldn't complain about that}

{Note 2: I'm behaving the worst. I'm behaving the worst. I'm behaving the worst. I'm behaving the worst}

{Note 3: They have many, many more on the way as well and we cut this list. It probably could have stretched to TWENTY just for September alone}

"Wine To This" by Fucha Kid

Apparently the fine people at FF are taking a Farmer Nappy/Stein interest into the career of Antiguan based Guyana born Fucha Kid as after releasing his sophomore set, "The Crossover", about twenty minutes ago, the label is now dealing with an EP which, as far as I can see, is a compilation featuring some of the artist's tracks from the 2014 season. If you are not fully familiar with the work of Fucha Kid, I would definitely say that his brand of Soca, very much, comes from a Dancehall base and that appears to be evident throughout this six-tracked release. I'm actually familiar with a few of these tunes such as 'Carnival Backpack' and 'Bumpa Explosion', but it is one which is new to my ears, 'Everything Tun Up', that I'm most looking forward to hearing. 

Releases  on September 9
The Wreck It Riddim

The union of Stadic Studio and Wetty Beatz came together again to produce more WONDERFUL madness for 2014 and that is precisely what they did with the gorgeous Wreck It Riddim. For the most part, this is GRIMY, nose-bloodied type of Soca which is headlined by Fay-Ann Lyons, but also features the well dependable likes of Problem Child, Skinny Fabulous [MAD!], the stinking behaviour of Lavaman and Royall. Triniboi Joocie, who I've never listened to much, also manages to impress with his 'Must Be In Dat'. 

Releases on September 2
The Moombahton Riddim 

Madmen Productions originally gave us the electric Moombahton Riddim a few years back now send it up digitally for your consumption. The big tune on this track came from Kes with 'Socializing', but artists such as General Grant, Skinny Fabulous and even Mr. Vegas (biggup Mr. Vegas) also turned up with sizable efforts as well. 

Releases on September 16
The Love People Riddim
The Love People Riddim which came up back about a year or so ago was outstanding. It was a creation of Millbeatz Entertainment and it now comes to a full digital release courtesy, of course, of Fox Fuse. Just as a composition, it was FANTASTIC and though I wasn't in love with every song that I heard on it, it did definitely carry a hammer in Isasha's golden 'Live & Learn'. King David also stood up well with the stirring 'Sea Lots'. Both of those songs are included here as are efforts from both Prophet Benjamin and Stephynia. Still, likely most interesting here is the fact that the digital set also contains an instrumental of the Love People Riddim, which should be divine (there is a guitar somewhere on that thing which is so, SO nice!) 

Releases on September 23
The Girl Scout Riddim 

Fox Fuse goes back even further to deliver this blast from the past from Martian Music. The Girl Scout Riddim was a lovely, slightly enthused piece of Groovy Soca music and it, fittingly, featured three of the biggest female names in the business as the great Alison Hinds led a pack which also included Patrice Roberts and Nadia Batson. It was probably Batson's 'Admiring Me' which did the biggest damage here for me but Hinds' 'Soca Queen' was right behind it and not too far in the back was Roberts' infectious 'Jack It Up'. A very high quality set here which should still be excellent four or five years from its release date. 

Releases on September 16
The Ghost Town Riddim

Also coming from Martian Music, who continues to turn their catalogue to Fox Fuse (a good idea) is the Ghost Town Riddim from just last year or so. This track actually features a TRULY ridiculous combination featuring Nadia Batson and Lavaman which leads the way here, 'Di Most [Unruly]' (biggup Mr. Hooper). A pair of spicy exports also do exceedingly well as Tallpree and Boyzie also make appearances in this ghost town. 

Releases on September 23
The Oil Drum Riddim

Nadia Batson, Boyzie and Lavaman also take control on the Oil Drum Riddim, also from Martian Music. Batson and Boyzie actually team up for 'Wildness' while notorious drunkard Lavaman turns his attention to some 'Strong Rum and Beers' - a song which requires you to be most careful because it will likely take a MASSIVE head injury or full on brain-death to get that song out of your head. 

Releases on September 9 
The Double Up Riddim

And because we know you love Mars so much, also coming from Martian Music is the SWEET Double Up Riddim. This track was a joy to listen to and only featured three songs -- from Devon Matthews, lyrics machine Ms. Alysha and bona fide cutie Megan Walrond -- also featured is a clean version of the riddim which seems unfortunately rare in Soca music despite today's post. 

Releases on September 16
The Bad Influence Riddim

Nadia Batson picked up the Bad Influence Riddim and smashed it over her beautiful head with, so Martian Music named the riddim after her song. What was left over they passed to Lyrikal and Ki, who actually teaches courses on feting should you require instruction. 

Releases on September 9
"Carnival: A Story About A Story"

Did you catch all of that. If you missed any of it, Martian Music and Fox Fuse were kind enough to put a big bow on the package and deliver it in a compilation style on "Carnival: A Story About A Story", which is a pretty good idea in my opinion. If you haven't noticed, it was all about Nadia Batson (and it should always be about Nadia Batson) (and that ass) who makes five appearances on this set by my certainly incorrect count. But Lavaman, Isasha, Tallpree, Boyzie and others also check in as well. 

Releases on September 30
"On Top Of Toronto" by Delee

While I can't say that I know much about Delee, I can say that I do recall coming across one of his songs a few months back by the name of 'Lonely Tonight', which was excellent. That song and a pair of others show up on an EP Delee does for DMP Records. One of the other selections, the Reggae-fied 'Not In Love' also sounds very nice, but even if it isn't, 'Lonely Tonight' should be worth the price of admission here. 

Releases on September 23
'Use Me' by Nathan Marcelin

Check the cool 'Use Me' coming from Nathan Marcelin and Millbeatz Entertainment, which I didn't actually remember hearing but apparently isn't very old at all. Just a very nice and breezy type of vibes which is sure to find a place… stuck in your head. 

{Note: After stealing about three different pairs of my Wife's 3D glasses, I couldn't get this cover to work properly]

{Note 2: Biggup my Wife}

Releases on September 29
The Resurrection Riddim

And finally, after allllllllll of that misbehaving, you definitely do need something in the way of cleansing and offering you that are our friends at JahLight Records with the Resurrection Riddim. This sterling track carries a trio of tunes, two of which come from staples of JLR, Righteous and Kwesi Fontinelle. For his part , Righteous gives us the title track (basically) and one of the highlights from his 2013 EP from JLR, "Rise", 'Rise Up', while Fontinelle, who recently gave us his own EP on the label in "Reconciliation", tells all to 'Step Out In Faith' - a nice song which did not appear on that EP. The third song? 'Behold' comes from the very interestingly named Berhane Selassie and from the long clip that we heard (because Juno essentially cues the entire song and calls it a clip) - it sounds VERY good and I can't wait to hear the full record. And biggup JahLight for suddenly being so active in 2014. 

Releases on September 9

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rewind!: "Salam" by Ras Muhamad

"Salam" by Ras Muhamad [Oneness Records - 2014]
I've been looking forward to this one! Reggae music is so powerful, as is music in general, that it can bring together some of the most interesting groups of people for the pursuit of making this amazing sound and it has been a very recent and modern occurrence, but we've seen some very strong examples of exactly how it can do that. Out of all the fantastic things that 2014 has given Reggae fans, surely one of the most interesting has been an album which charted a very curious course across the world in linking an artist from out of Indonesia, ready to make his full arrival to fans, and a label from out of Germany who has been making some of the most consistently good music in the entire genre. Today we go global and REWIND! "Salam" by Ras Muhamad from the wonderful people at Oneness Records.

See original review

1. 'Salam'

If the goal and the mission statement with the title track and opening selection of "Salam" was to put the listener in a good mood and a very open frame of mind, then Ras Muhamad and Oneness scored a heavy blow with this track. At this point in time I am completely unable and unwilling to hear this song without smiling. I just CANNOT do it and it so beautifully sets the stage for what is to follow (aided by that downright sublime track carrying it). Aside from just being a, literal, greeting - I also take from this song just the thought of being nice to people and saying HELLO (however you say "hello" and in whichever language you say it in - another very large idea behind this song in my opinion and a mighty example of Ras Muhamad appreciating the moment here) when you see them. Hello Ras Muhamad!

2. 'Good Over Evil'

After you greet someone, it isn't a bad thing at all to be nice to them, further, and to help to steer them away from negative things and that was one of the sentiments behind the album's second offering, 'Good Over Evil'. It was put together just  more aggressive than that and that's something that has helped to grow my appreciation for this, a song I well enjoyed and regarded as a highlight here from the first time that I heard it. Muhamad doesn't go fully, but you definitely feel the passion on this song and it is a necessary aspect of this delivery when you consider the subject.

"Babylon a bandit, put I inna bondage
Then they take advantage
Lock up I a conscience 

3. 'Re-Education' featuring Kabaka Pyramid

Speaking of passion - it continues to build through the next song and the album's initial combination tune, 'Re-Education', which linked Ras Muhamad with the increasingly genius Kabaka Pyramid. Pyramid absolutely dazzles at times on this song which is about re educating the masses on all things, particularly in terms of culture and its history. What is most remarkable here, perhaps, is the combination which links Indonesia and Jamaica in a wholly DETAILED manner about Afrika. I also like the kind of 'loose' feel of the vibes. Kabaka Pyramid almost always has that tone when he is in a good form, but it pours out of Muhamad as well. You can almost HEAR a smile on his face at times. And I should also mention on a Rewind, the very INTELLIGENT usage of an excerpt from a speech made by legendary civil rights activist and Pan Africanist, Malcolm X, which well fit's the nature of this song perfectly. 

4. 'Jah T Interlude'

The interlude here is barely north of a minute and it doesn't stand out for any type of reason on paper - but it is DELIGHTFUL to listen to. One of the nicest spins on this album and a major credit goes to whoever got the idea to make this one happen because it was an excellent idea.

5. 'Satu Rasa' featuring Conrad Good Vibration

I know that this may shock you, but over the past month I have not fully learned Bahasa Indonesian and, because of that, a great deal of 'Satu Rasa' ['One Feeling'] is lost to my ears, but you don't have to know Indonesian to LOVE a song like this. The song, like the interlude preceding it, is food for the ears as Ras Muhamad links with one of the best names in Reggae music today, Conrad Good Vibration, to deliver a winner.

6. 'Nuh Badmind Friend'

While I haven't flipped my thinking on 'Nuh Badmind Friend', I have certainly expanded upon it somewhat. I think that, besides the obvious, it is also a song about showing more in the way of patience and being careful who you call and refer to as "friend". It is a title to be earned is what Muhamad is saying and, if you do that, you'll almost always avoid those who don't have your best interests at heart.

7. 'Farmerman' featuring Naptali

Similarly as the song it chases, I'm also thinking heavier on 'Farmerman', which was Ras Muhamad's trip to ReggaeVille, alongside Achis Reggae favourite, Naptali. This song is one about being humble and working hard - along with spreading the idea of unity and brotherhood amongst people from so diverse cultures. The two definitely explore that aspect, but they do it in a way in which is about showing the ground-level similarities, saying that everyone has a struggle to face, no matter where they come from - an idea which Muhamad comes back to later. 

8. 'Lion Roar'
Though it has been unseated as my most frequently listened to Ras Muhamad (by track #10 on this album) (DUH!), 'Lion Roar' from the African Children Riddim remains, easily, one of my favourite songs from the artist in… ever! The song is a subtly BRILLIANT and all-encompassing praising tune. On one hand you take it in a literal way - the roar of an animal. A lion is a well-respected creature and it is throughout the world. Going deeper - The Almighty is to be supremely respected and THE LION roars, you hear HIM wherever you may be! A fantastic song!

9. 'Leluhur' featuring Kunokini

'Leluhur', alongside Kunokini, at least for me, was as much of a musical EXPERIENCE, as it was a song on this album. It is definitely one of the most sonically pleasing moments here and it really puts the listener through a variety of different sounds, even if you (like me) are unable to fully take it in. Just as was the case with 'Satu Rasa', however, you don't have to be Indonesian or speak the language to appreciate a song that sounds like this… all you really have to do is possess a pair (or one) of at least semi-functioning ears.

10. 'Learn & Grow' featuring Sara Lugo

TEARS! I make it a point to listen to 'Learn & Grow' each and every day. I LOOOOOOOOVE this song and it isn't just because it features walking-wonderful Sara Lugo (though that certainly has a lot to do with it) (I'm sure you haven't noticed this before - but I'm a fan). The two make for a dynamic and perfectly complementary pair and, obviously, for a skyscraper of a song. The song is both inspirational and entertaining as, at its heart (in my opinion), is the idea of maturing at any stage of life (you can mature when you're fifteen and when you're one-hundred and fifteen). Simultaneously, this is such a joy to listen to and when you build upon it with two such different people come together singing Reggae music and doing it at such a high level - it's just a very significant release for me and the most lasting song on an album full of well-resilient vibes.

11. 'Conquest'

GRRR! By far the tune which I have grown in appreciation of most on "Salam" has been the downright dominant 'Conquest'. Though I surely did respect it from the first spin as the lyrical bomb that it was, these days, I’m ranking it even higher because of the mix between the lyrics and the presentation. For Muhamad's part, he delivers a song which covers the emotional span that you might imagine someone would experience in dealing with the most frustrating and aggravating subject of how so called 'discoverers' mistreated people on their way into a history which, almost always, regards them in such an esteemed fashion. Musically, 'Conquest' is just as crucial with a SWEET guitar prevailing throughout subtly and an excellent extension on the riddim after the song's final vocals have been spoken. 

"Remember when they told of the explorers that went through a fantastic voyage and saw all these monsters
Now, it's them who were actually the monsters
The transatlantic human trade"

12. 'Barriers & Borders' featuring Uwe Kaa

"Barriers and borders inna our view
Like a roadblock inna dem curfew
We flying high with music, music
So come and get into it, to it"

The combination with German artist, Uwe Kaa, 'Barriers & Borders' is another album which mixes languages (and even more so in this case than on some of the others because Kaa uses German), but I do feel like I can follow along a little thanks to the chorus and even if I couldn't, this tune just sounds SO nice and is so pleasing. I think, actually, you can even look at this tune as a microcosm for a large chunk of the ideology of this album - where we CELEBRATE one of the things that virtually always manages to bring people together and espouse on all of its many wonders: Music (more on that in a minute). 

13. 'So Tired'

'So Tired' was more of a straight-forward type of social commentary for the album but it, too, was a track which fit well into the scheme of the of the project. As where the tune before it recognized one of the many things that is capable of linking people together throughout the world, 'So Tired' did the same thing but with poverty and hardships that are faced by so many people from so many different walks of life. This song also has a HEAVY sound to it which is so wonderfully difficult to shake and helps to make it, in my opinion, one of the many standouts featured on "Salam". 

14. 'All Over The World' featuring Mighty Che

Ras Muhamad continues to get global, this time with the help of the Mighty Che and this time he's taking in the 'sights'. All of the beautiful women to be found on the planet represent the direction of 'All Over The World'. I hadn't heard this tune in a few minutes but, listening to it now, I just couldn't help but to smile because of the wide open sound on this track and its damn infectious chorus.

15. 'Blow Them Away'

A di wicked man wi smite and ah strike everyday
So di youths dem life could never go astray"

Ras Muhamad clears a path of righteousness directly through the negativity and wickedness to be found in the world on his cut of the Rub A Dub Man Riddim and a song that remains one of my favourite offerings that he's ever made, 'Blow Them Away'. This selection absolutely BURNS later in this album and though it hasn't been away from my players for a very long time, I love how the passion which effuses from it always gives it a very fresh and compelling sound - even after hearing it a few hundred times.

16. 'Through The Smoke'

'Salam' ended with another big tune in 'Through The Smoke', arguably the single biggest piece that it has to offer. In retrospect, aside from things which immediately stand out from it, something else I really enjoy about this song is the level of confidence coming from the artist. Songs which kind of acknowledge that bad things are happening and will most certainly continue to happen, but feature a vocalist who can remain confident that things will sort themselves out in the end have always done something for me and ''Through The Smoke' has to be amongst the very best of its kind that I've ever heard. I also love the musical end of this one which persists on and on well after the song’s final vocals and it is just a MIGHTY song from an artist who well put his proverbial best foot forward on this outstanding album. 

I do want to quickly mention something, in general, which has changed for me in regards to this one and it is something that has happened before. Initially, one of the major point of interest here was clearly that you had an Indonesian artist linking with a German label to make a Caribbean birthed form of music and to pursue the art form and the kind of inherent and organic remoteness and randomness presented by that set of circumstances is still indefinably captivating. HOWEVER, what has illuminated for me in the month or so since then is how what is even more interesting are the spots in between! This isn't an album just linking three countries or three regions of the world, it is one attempting to link them all. Ras Muhamad, clearly appreciative of the moment and his situation, Ras Muhamad seems to make it a mission to include EVERYONE! No one is excluded. Everyone is invited and what happens, subsequently, is an album which I'm sure will find a place amongst any fan of Reggae music. Not sure about that??? See for yourself when you pick up one of the year's finest Reggae albums, "Salam" by Ras Muhamad, today. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

'But Not TOO Different': A review of "Differentology" by Bunji Garlin

Activation. It seems as if, throughout the years, Dancehall music has settled into a pattern in terms of sending songs and stars towards mainstream success. It has even become a revolving and evolving question in the genre as to who is next to receive the brightest spotlight only reserved for some of the biggest name in music altogether. This is the case despite the fact that Dancehall has definitely undergone some changes through the years and, these days, does not do a very good job of promoting itself outwardly (what is out comes in, instead). Yet, in spite of the Dancehall's proneness of futility, as I said, it is always only a matter of time before the next scheduled 'bit hit' reaches the masses. The same, however, certainly cannot be said when it comes to Dancehall's really, really attractive younger sister, Soca. Soca music is on a schedule of its on and, inwardly (meaning to already-fans of the genre), probably does an even stronger job of promoting itself than does Dancehall (after Aidonia, Busy Signal and Mavado came to prominence, Dancehall music has seemed to get really messy and cluttered) (or maybe I just got really old and crazy) but it stops there. Soca has attained neither the type of lasting mainstream respect that Dancehall still enjoys, which is fine and fair, nor the number of outward surges, which is… un-fine and unfair. Why???! Soca music, in my opinion, has a 'built-in' audience and I do not know why that level of success has been almost exclusively reserved for the likes of Kevin Lyttle, Alison Hinds and Rupee when, each and every season, you have more than a handful of Soca songs which could, seemingly, do a major damage if exposed to more a more of a Pop music audience. Names like Destra, Patrice Roberts, Hinds and a GIANT line of others provide songs annually which, at least in my opinion, could make a certain leap towards receiving a mainstream shine. And, again, though I would not place it in the category of Dancehall as far as maintaining a particular level of inevitability, I have definitely been expecting and anticipating Soca music to make that push again and, hopefully, this time get a little comfortable and begin to receive the global level of attention that it deserves for being… the type of addicting and unshakable DRUG FOR YOUR EARS AND FEET that it is. The only question was who would be the next to bridge that gap. If not Destra, Roberts or Hinds - then maybe Machel Montano, arguably the genre's biggest star. Maybe Zan, Farmer Nappy, Achis Reggae favourite Jalena (an always interesting case), Rupee or maybe, just maybe, someone might stumble upon a picture of Fay-Ann Lyons and realize that people who look like that deserve MAINSTREAM attention.  
Maybe even Bunji Garlin! WHAT! No way. That's ridiculous. Though one of Soca's greatest showmen (which is saying a lot), the genre's reigning lyrical king has made more of his strides towards Dancehall where his ability to pretty much do absolutely anything lyrically has certainly not gone unnoticed throughout the years and he's worked alongside some of the biggest names in production that the Dancehall has to offer. Furthermore, Garlin has also attracted the attention of VP Records. The biggest label in the world for Reggae and Dancehall has shown a full interest in Bunji Garlin's abilities dating back to 2002's Reggae-fied "Revelation" set (which was not a good album), and even prior to that, he had appeared on compilations such as both the 2000 and 2006 editions of their "Soca Gold" series, respectively.  And half a decade following "Revelation" was the far better "Global" and those two albums, until very recently, remained Garlin's most accessible releases to date (I actually own a copy of his debut album, the downright vanished "The Chronicles", which is definitely amongst one of the coolest albums in my collection). But still, again, Bunji's style is a lyrical one and quite heavy when at his best, he seemed to be headed for a future which would place him as one of the greatest champions of Soca music ever (defending it and its achievements at any opportunity and against any challenger) (even against lava) and a full pioneer for his work, but one which would not include a whole heap of mainstream success. 

And then things got different. Over the course of a career spanning more than a decade and a half, I cannot remember hearing Garlin ever have a song that had as much 'potential' as he showed back in 2012 with the release of his ELECTRIC 'Differentology'. He's had better songs and songs which I've enjoyed more (even one from that same season, initially), but I do not think that 'Fiery', 'No Super Hero', 'Snake Oil', 'Doh Play With Me' and any of my other favourites over the years had the potential to go global like 'Differentology' could and subsequently did providing not only Garlin (ever), but Soca music in its entirety, with one of its biggest hits to date and its single biggest and most recognizable in years. Unsurprisingly, the song would also lead to a reconnection between Bunji Garlin and VP Records for the first time in seven years (the label would go even further, fortunately, and sign up Mrs. Bunji Garlin as well, the aforementioned Fay-Ann Lyons). Far more shocking was that major label, RCA Records, would also take an interest in the power of Garlin's science of difference and they would also place their name behind the tune and, eventually, the full album which now comes to fruition. Though I believe the press release counts this as his ninth set, by my count "Differentology", becomes the tenth Bunji Garlin album to date (his first from 2012's outstanding "iSpaniard" set) ("iSpaniard" is either my favourite Garlin album or it ties with "Flame Storm") and, without a doubt, his most popular and eagerly anticipated. These albums, at least in terms of Dancehall music, have always been strange at best. When you include the participation of major labels they, obviously, want music and names that their audiences will be familiar with and we’ve seen examples of albums which have amounted to castration of genres in the name of being more accessible. As I said, however, Soca is a genre which I don't think needs very much in the way of changes in order to make it more friendly to wider audiences. So, is what we have here just kind of a package of fluff in order to test the reach of a popular song or is it actually a very good album which fans, new and old alike, are going to appreciate? Let's find out.
As usual, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Along with the looming spectre of an album modified for Britney Spears heads (or at least that would be the attempt) another point of interest here was that the album's main-attraction was nearly two years old. Typically in Soca music albums are released to coincide with Carnival seasons and the likes of Machel Montano, Destra and others, essentially, compile their music from any year and release it as an album. Because of the 'schedule' that Soca music is on, this has worked out for the best for years and is extremely convenient. But in this case the big song on this album was a big song from its birth and you now have an album built around a very 'seasoned' hit which should not be a concern of new fans, but probably is for more experienced ones (… who will likely buy the album anyway) (so much for my point). Bunji Garlin's full brand of "Differentology" certainly does get off to a fantastic start however, with the piercing 'Red Light District'. While not as heavy as Garlin's typical output, 'Red Light District' is a fantastic song to begin this album with because, despite the fact that better material does await, you'll go through all of that and still not be able to successfully rid your head of this mightily infectious tune. A sterling example of "better material" does come in the form of the second song on the album, the truly ridiculous 'Carnival Tabanca'. I do love when big hits are accompanied by hits from a particular individual and the title track of this album has had 'Carnival Tabanca' which has also developed into one of Garlin's biggest hits in recent times and also represents a softer deviation from his normal fiery approach. Unsurprisingly, the song is also offered in a remixed version, the Viking Remix, later on in the song which is kind of Techno and Electric which, I believe, is the direction RCA wanted to market this album in somewhat. The moody mix is certainly far too much for me but I'd imagine fans of those genres would surely think otherwise. And you also have 'Savage' whose presence on this album does not come as a shock either. This song was decent and although not a favourite of mine, it fits perfectly into the more 'bright' type of vibes you would expect to be presented on an album like this and I would well anticipate newer fans to gravitate towards it and with good reason. 

Though well traveled and downright weary, the finest composition to be found on "Differentology", with respect to 'Carnival Tabanca', remains the tune which it is named after. 'Differentology' is one of the best songs I've ever heard in my entire absentminded existence and it will take a lot longer than a couple of years to spoil it or its glowing remix by the masterminds of Major Lazer which also appears on this album. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for 'Truck On D Road', a song which I love in its original form (which does not appear on this album) but absolutely do not in the remixed version (which does). This song features US rapper Asap Ferg who I don't think appreciated the type of song this was. That is coming from someone who is not a Hip-Hop fan and has not been for a very long time, so you may actually enjoy that remix as well, but if you have not heard the original, it isn't difficult to find at all. Garlin, himself, also tries his hand at Hip-Hop with 'West Indian Jungle'. Though somewhat 'bulky', particularly when compared to the selections surrounding it on this album, the tune is a brief glimpse into Bunji Garlin's capabilities with the spoken word. He's considerably better than what you ultimately do hear on this song but it is at least on the path of what he can do, Incidentally, if you do like the vibes of this song, definitely check 'The King's Arrival' which was much better in my opinion. A step further along on that same path would be Garlin's cut of the Stag Riddim from 1st Klase Productions, 'Touchless'. This is an amazing effort and clearly amongst the very best to be found on "Differentology".
I was really happy to see all four of the final songs on "Differentology" as, in my opinion, the provide the album with a proper 'body'. Though they may go overlooked in the name of more flashy and immediately striking songs, they all represent, collectively, a reason to be excited about this album and evidence that someone was paying attention. The first of these, 'All O'Dem' is one of the most FUN songs that I've heard from Garlin recently. There's no pressure. No one is setting anything on fire and you don't even have to jump and wave a damn thing if you don't feel like it. It's very relaxed and infectious and flexible and just a fine Groovy Soca song. The same (all of it) can be said of 'Stages' (biggup Blazer) (…I return to writing this review TWENTY MINUTES later after listening to Blazer's 'Stages' over and over and over again) which is another very cool vibes, with just a bit more in the way of intensity here. 'Stages' actually does have slightly further concerns as it is a song speaking on the virtues of music, in general, and Soca, especially. As I mentioned, Bunji Garlin has spent the majority of his entire career as someone who not only performs Soca music but someone who is quick to stand up for it (like when someone calls it Devil's music, for example). This one doesn't quite find him on the defence or the attack but he does well and correctly outline just a few of the endless joys of this wonderful sound during 'Stages'.

"A life of rhyme
No life of crime
We do the music for you to wine
From home to studio mi spend meh time -
To give the music - so fine
Well anytime that I'm feeling down 
And di situation look brown

Things continue on similarly with 'Over The Hills' which, at least for me, is the feeling I have surrounding this entire album and project. This song came originally a year or two ago but I feel that the nature of it is so very fitting for an album like this. And, hopefully, it does some damage, at least as far as furthering, on a larger scale, Bunji Garlin's commitment not only to his own career and craft but to the art form, in full, of Soca music and fully embracing that aspect of his talents. As much as Garlin is this lyrical powerhouse and electric showman, he's also, essentially, the security in the club of Soca and, as he has shown in the past, if you disrespect the house, he will show you to the door.

 "So when they watch me like the scourge of Soca
And try to treat me like the purge of Soca
I penetrate the nerve of Soca
I preserve the spoken words inna Soca
When they watch me like the pain of Soca
And fraid of me like I is di Bane of Soca
Like I poison in di vein of Soca
I stimulate all di brains inna Soca
Because - I wanna see this music rise, rise, rise
I wanna see Soca music flying with the eagle in the sky!"

Lastly is the perfectly chaotic 'Gi Dem Dey'. Although you might be able to question its positioning on the album (it probably should have been the first of the final four and not the last), its quality is not up for debate and it does give "Differentology" a much needed final power-surge in a more typically Garlin-esque manner.
Overall, this is definitely an easy album to over analyze for its quality but I won't. I could probably come up with ten or so songs that I would have liked to see present here, but for what it is, "Differentology" is a good effort and a solid result. I would have most liked to see Fay-Ann Lyons involved in some way and the fact that she was not did come as a surprise (particularly with VP's presumed intentions) but this album is far, FAR better than we've seen from some of the full-on horror shows which similar sets of circumstance have presented in the past. Ultimately, I think that an album like this serves best to attract new PASSIONATE fans who may have never heard either Bunji Garlin's music or Soca music at all. Those who are likely to 'stick around' for his eleventh album and for Lyons' first, I believe, are the best marks for an album like this one. Is "Differentology" good enough to produce MANY of those??? I think it is. The album may be a bit strange, and you knew that it would be, but for what it is, Bunji Garlin and his full 'study' now sits as one of the most important and visible moments in the very curious history of Soca music. 

Rated: 3.65/5
VP Records/RCA Records
CD + Digital

Review #524 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Check It #66: In The Beginning

'Rock Stone' featuring Capleton & Sizzla Kalonji by Stephen Marley [Ghetto Youths International]

First up today is a song which we never actually mentioned until now but, clearly, has generated a lot of unsurprising attention over the past few months as Reggae royalty, Stephen Marley, links with both Capleton and Sizzla Kalonji on a big tune, 'Rock Stone'. Anytime anyone named Marley releases… anything the talk immediately turns to a next album and while I don't think that Stephen's next set (and the Grammy he will surely win for it) is right around the corner, 'Rock Stone' was outstanding and you didn't really have to listen to it to know that it would be. Any combination of these three big names would lead to something nearly special, at worst, and this song was not the exception. It took a surprisingly long time, but the tune finally reached official release, somewhat coinciding with the official clip (which Bredz surely has been kind enough to put up there) (biggup Bredz). 

'Real Link' by Junior X [Bonner Cornerstone Music]

"Di wickedest fight mi face a from family
Dem bad mind mi fi nuthin but vanity
Fi maintain mi freedom and sanity:
That's why mi bun hypocrite from dem head to dem foot
Come in as yuh friend but a help dem ah look

A big, big credit goes to veteran chanter Junior X for continuing to destroy and rebuild the modern social commentary in his typically subtly brilliant way with his latest track coming from the Bonner bros and company at Bonner Cornerstone Music, 'Real Link'. It's been awhile from the last time we covered a tune from Junior X, I think, and this song was definitely a strong return as in it, X not only tells all to be careful of who you spend your time with ["Mind who you lime round, spend time round. They could be the same ones pulling you down"] [biggup Ickarus] but to be thankful as you possibly can for all of the good people in your life. A giant song and one of the finest compositions I've heard recently.
'For Your Love' by Jamelody [J'Island Records]

Sweet singing Jamelody from out of Trinidad is in next with an offering that takes a full advantage of his amazing vocals, the downright Jah Cure-esque ‘For Your Love' from J'Island Records. Jamelody is someone who started out with so much attention and fanfare and, these days, he's kind of settled in to a nice spot and in 2014 he's managed to turn out some very good music but I think that it all kind of pales in comparison for him (even over the last two or three years or so) when it comes to 'For Your Love'. To my opinion, this is the best he's sounded in a long time and I'm sure you'll agree that he's in a fine form when you pick up Jamelody's 'For Your Love' today. 

Hungry Lion Records

Hungry Lion Records is doing big things this week (fully) with releasing a handful of singles across their more than tough Tough Times Riddim. The vocalists featured offer a nice mixture of up and comers with big names with the likes of IGlori (a fantastic name), Lucky Jobe and Victorious Vibrations (another great name) on one end, while heavy-hitters Anthony B, Determine and Louie Culture handle also stepping forth. To my opinion it is definitely the oft-overlooked and underrated Determine who provides the Tough Times with its biggest set as the chanter mines gold on 'When Will It End'. 

"Dem system mash up, government ah play catch-up
A whole heap a innocent youths inna di jailhouse lockup"

The New Money Riddim [Fresh Ear Productions]

Though probably not one of my favourites in terms of the songs on it, I've always been a fan of the work of ["She want a man with whole heap of fame like - "] Arif Cooper and his Fresh Ear Productions imprint and his latest composition, the infectious New Money Riddim, certainly has my attention. This one is kind of Groovy Soca-ish to my ears and it, as a piece of music and an instrumental, is candy for your ears. That being said, however, out of the ten or so original tracks on the riddim… I don't really like any of them. Surprisingly, it is Major Brandish who probably scores the highest with 'Niceness', a decent track, and he takes top honours away from Kartel, Tifa, Demarco, Alkaline and others.

'Gal Tek Weh Yo Gal' by Kiprich [Black Spyda Records]

Warmonster, Kippo, goes Cocoa Tea on the people (not really) with a very modern spin with one of his latest tunes, 'Gal Tek Weh Yo Gal'. It's so interesting to me that, over the course of the last few years or so, Kiprich has turned into a soldier. He's always ready for war and that is what he has become most well known for lately. But he's always been a very inventive lyricist and a song like this is a sterling example of what the colourful deejay is capable of. 

"North Wind Remixes" [Jamrock Vybz Records]

Jamrock Vybz Records (of course I initially typed that as "Jamrock Vybz Kartel") is serving up an expanded version of their North Wind Riddim from just last year. That original released packed just four tracks together with an instrumental. This version??? Via the various remixes of songs from Lutan Fyah, Sizzla Kalonji, Italo Skarcha and Alexander Star, it's been stretched out to TWELVE. Have fun!

'Genesis' by Jah Jah Mali [Stand Up Muzic]

I don't actually know if I have heard the name Jah Jah Mali before… okay I have heard it before in a different version. Of course there's Jamaican veteran vocalist, Jahmali [new album, "We I Open", in stores now], but this artist comes from out of St. Croix and is attracting quite a bit of attention with his new single, 'Genesis', alongside Stand Up Muzic. The song is a praising piece which, though I've had to work on it some, is a really nice release. JJM has a very interesting delivery. If you can imagine a less refined version of VI standout, Army, that'd probably be the best way to describe it and he makes what should be a fine introduction with, I believe, his first song which is this widely available. 

"Stand The Test" by Midnite [Iaahden Sounds]

Unsurprisingly, we got a lot of feedback from readers in regards to the new album from Midnite and Iaahden Sounds, "Stand The Test" (we still hear from Midnite fans who absolutely LOVE everything 'they' do and will make the case that something is a classic while simultaneously admitting that they've yet to actually hear a particular album [WHAT!]). That album is currently available on both digital and physical platforms. You can find the digital… anywhere. And the CD can be found in the usual places like CDBABY and Ernie B. There you go.

CD + Digital
'Love Language' by Excellent [JahLight Records]

And finally today (biggup easily written posts, I love them) is yet another release from our friends at JahLight Records from out of Trinidad. The last time we heard from them (which was… about forty seconds ago) they were delivering a very strong EP from Kwesi Fontinelle by the name of "Reconciliation" [in stores now, go and get it] and this time they're bringing us a new big name. The phrase 'Trini female Reggae singer' is one which will always come with a whole heap of potential passion for me because, possibly, it alludes to the walking divinity that is Queen Omega but the single most talented woman in the genre today now has some company. Meet Excellent (we want Excellent to start doing big things, if for no other reason than because she simply has to make a combination with Perfect Giddimani) (Excellent & Perfect in a combination!) [WHAT!]. The singer makes his introduction to Reggae music with what I believe is her very first song EVER 'Love Language'. First of all, check the riddim on this song - it is BIG and if they have not already, hopefully JLR turns it over to a few other vocalists (and maybe one of them could be Queen Omega!). For her part, Excellent also brings a fine form with a very powerful and soulful voice. She also seems to have a nice edge to her. She's confident but humble and it well comes through on the song. 

"No need for us to speak
Your smile is all it's gonna take to knock me off my feet
This feeling is so deep
Sometimes I get so weak"

A fine performance and we're definitely looking forward to getting to know more about Excellent and, certainly, hear more new music from her and definitely biggup JahLight Records (who also includes an 'excellent' dubbed out version of 'Love Language') who continue to tap excellent up and coming Trini Reggae and Gospel talents. 

Releases on August 26

Saturday, August 16, 2014

'Elixir?': A review of "Stand The Test" by Midnite

Because you don't know what you've got until it's gone. As I've said in the past, though they certainly do seem quite ridiculous these days (in retrospect) and a comeback is virtually a sure negative, I do kind of long for the days when certain artists would release upwards of three or four albums in any given year. And, as it has been for so many different types of albums, 2014 has been a sweet representation of exactly what I've missed most. The prime case here being, of course, Sizzla Kalonji who though he may or may not give us a fourth before the end of the year, delivered THREE albums within the first half of 2014. No. None of those albums were exceptional and, as we move further away from them, I find myself enjoying them less and less as a whole. But the circumstances there're just amazing even on paper: Three new albums from Sizzla Kalonji in about five and a half months or so (probably even less than that, I don't feel like looking up the official release date of "Born A King"). I'll take that any time and worry about how good they actually are later (as long as none of the three come from Penitentiary, Rude Boy or whatever they're calling themselves these days). On top of that, in about three weeks or so, VI standout Pressure Busspipe is also set to deliver a new album, "Africa Redemption". That record will follow his all-conquering "The Sound" from earlier this year (and you have some serious problems that you need to seek help for if you've yet to pick that one up) as Pressure makes a big run at Artist Of The Year to go along with Lyricist Of The Year which seems to be a lock for him at this point. And who knows who else might fall in that line as, hopefully, the last third of the year may feature a new album from Lutan Fyah at the very least. HOWEVER, curiously absent from this very welcomed breath of a nostalgic air has been the one entity in the genre who, seemingly, was completely unaffected by the gradual changing of the times - Vaughn Benjamin and Midnite. It would be foolish not to use this time to acknowledge and make a mention of the fact that the single Midnite album from 2014 was one of their finest in recent times and has been one of their most popular… ever, as well. "Beauty For Ashes" was a downright magical release and, as is normally the case when Midnite links with I Grade Records (label of the year???), it was very well promoted and, already, should be regarded as one of their most well-known releases to date. For anyone else, that would have been more than enough for any twelve month span but when it comes to Midnite, anytime I hear a new album I always find myself wondering - What's next? 
"Beauty For Ashes" [2014]
Maybe a Rastar album? The label with whom Midnite has been most frequently associated recently wouldn't go a year without releasing a new project would they? Well maybe not. Rastar did, very quietly kind of release a dubbed out version of "Better World Rasta". But it has yet to make its way to any type of a full circulation and until/unless it does, we won't count it. If not Rastar, then perhaps Fifth Son Records who delivered both "In Awe" ["I hold His Majesty in awe. In awe. In awe"] in 2012 and its more than solid 2013 follow-up, "Be Strong". Neither of those? Well then, even though they just gave us a 'full' Midnite album last year in "Lion Out Of Zion", perhaps the next record would come via Rastafaria or Afrikan Roots Lab. Nope! None of them, instead Midnite goes about the process of likely introducing fans to another new label placing themselves in the healthy rotation of release Midnite music.

Meet Iaahden Sounds. To my (surely incorrect and misguided) knowledge, the Virgin Islands based imprint was one which existed almost exclusively to push music from an artist of the same name -- Iaahden -- and he's had at least a couple of relatively recent albums. But now they're branching out and doing it in a most familiar way. Earlier this year, Iaahden would push a trio of singles from Midnite and, seemingly, begin to set the course to an eventual album as… generally you don't just release a whole heap of music from Vaughn Benjamin and just kind of let it sit. That course, though it began with a flare did not present much in the way of twists and turns and, wonderfully, has already led us to "Stand The Test" which, by my count (which is always wrong, but I'm the only one who does it) album number fifty-one from Vaughn Benjamin and company. You have to give a nice amount of credit and respect to a label such as Iaahden for the moves that they've made. This album figures to have a few more eyes and ears focused on it than it may've had typically as, presumably, "Beauty For Ashes" brought in quite a few new fans to Midnite who may stick around for at least one more album and, in releasing three songs, it was a very nice way to get the attentions of, at least, the more savvy fans who make up one of the most passionate of fan bases this genre has ever seen in my opinion. There have been Midnite albums from labels likely more capable and surely more experienced which have gone IMMEDIATELY forgotten, overlooked and un-promoted altogether and Iaahden have done a very formidable job in ensuring that their release wouldn't be added to that pile. While the fate of its popularity does ultimately remain to be seen, its quality is something we can deal with right now. Can "Stand The Test" stand up to the reputation of its FIFTY predecessors which comprise one of the most decorated catalogues in modern Reggae history? Let's find out. 

Although I had actually taken in the aforementioned three singles released prior to the album, I had absolutely nothing in the way of expectations when it came to this album and, essentially, I was most excited to just actually hear another new Midnite album. What did occur in this case, however, was that the album quickly makes you aware that something different is going on with its sound. You hear all types of different sounds including Hip-Hop, Jazz and other types of sounds which make up, for the most part, the instrumentals of this album. Fortunately, Iaahden Sounds also managed to mix in some Reggae music, which is what you came for (you know you did). Beginning this on Midnite's "Stand The Test" is definitely a tune with a unique sound in the increasingly formidable 'Ina Zion'. This song is one which has well been a process for me over the course of listening to it. I can't say that I hated it from the first time I heard it, but I did not enjoy it and, after a few more intense listenings, it started to bake for me. Now, it is still in the oven although I do hear a far more streamlined version of the somewhat chaotic track that it originally registered as with me. This kind of 'slimming' view of the tune has well allowed me to hear Vaughn Benjamin, at times, dazzle.

"Carnal and carnivorous is the flesh speak of
Some feel that a in pull, tugging and shove
Which one of these, are you one of them of?
Some say they don't qualify as none of the above

BOOM! Things go in a downright HEAVY direction on the next tune in, the pulsing 'Put In'. The music in this case, though probably what you'd refer to as more Hip-Hop aimed (and, as I've said in the past, I've never been the biggest Hip-Hop fan), is candy to my ears and, for his part -- again -- Benjamin weaves a brilliant composition. What I took from this one (as a highly and constantly evolving and evolvable [an actual word] line of thinking) is the concept that life is what you make it and it will give you what you give to it. 

"Waan better muscle tone, some haffi go to the gym.
Waan clean a sinner spirit, haffi go The King"

The way this song is situated is, at times, reminiscent of burners such as 'Sha Tee' from the "Maschaana", which operate in these unrelenting bursts. And rounding out the first quarter of "Stand The Test" is another very unusually vibed selection, 'Survivor'. This one is not a favourite of mine on the album. It can be a very awkward tune to listen to, but I am still working on it and, as there virtually always is in Vaughn Benjamin's output, there is an obvious substance to this tune.  
The next batch (biggup Batch) of tunes on "Stand The Test" actually begins with the first of the afore-alluded to singles, 'Ina Culcha'. This is another song which has settled down just a bit to my ears and I'm now prepared and capable to take it in, in such a way that it has fully heightened for me. At its core, 'Ina Culcha' is a social commentary but Benjamin doesn't make it easy on you (he never does and you don't want him to) (if you did, you wouldn't have bought a Midnite album) as he takes you in so many different directions before arriving at his lyrical destination. This song is one of the best on the album and kind of a microcosm of how, in general, I've experienced a growing joy in listening to Midnite's music. 'Ina Culcha', because of its sound, kind of made genuinely hearing the album's next offering, 'King Ring' somewhat easier. Neither artist nor riddim on this tune seem to care about things such as overwhelming the listener as the chanter has a point to make and has a perfect track to do it on! This one is a praising piece on the surface but just as was the case of its predecessor, it is not an easy song to accept and is going to take a whole heap of work (and I have no problem with that). Because of its title, alone, I was really looking forward to 'Count Your Blessings' and the song still managed to impress. The root here is one about embracing and being happy for what you have and how the STATE of being thankful can improve your life and how its absence and its eschewing can be harmful to you. Sonically speaking, as far as songs throughout "Stand The Test" which may be similar to 'Count Your Blessings' - this one shines. It is easily amongst the very best.  
The title track and main-attraction on "Stand The Test"  brings in the album's second half. Unlike some of the others, this song I really liked from the very first time that I heard it and it made me very curious to hear what else Iaahden and Midnite might be working on. The "test" in this instance appears to be the test of TIME and Vaughn Benjamin applies that test to a  variety of subjects in an even more numerous variety of different ways. Amongst them, incidentally, is music and Benjamin mentions the likes of Marley and Tosh and even Tenor Saw and Barrington Levy. The song really took things a step higher on this album for me, still, I was very happy to say that it is not the single best song that I hear on this album. The fullness of 'Speak Complete' chases the eponymous track and it too is a big winner here.

"100,000 or more dem airlift outta di country
They were searching for a better fee weh inna di currency
But classism and religion take ascendancy

'Speak Complete' is RIPE with discussable and broad moments and it is a meal of a song for an over-thinker like myself. Where I am now with it is under the thinking that the song is kind of a moving message of honour and tribute to His Majesty. Benjamin has done songs like this in the past where he presents The Almighty as this STANDARD of living, or of anything, and the notion is to ALWAYS strive to reach the wholly unattainable in living up to that standard. A fantastic song to my ears and one which I'm looking forward to enjoying for years and years. The bulky 'Identify' doesn't quite present the potential kind of all-encompassing listening experience, although it is a pretty good song to my opinion. This a selection about finding where, and with whom, you belong in the world. Benjamin (and you) fully knows where his place is and he constructs this song around that.  
"Stand The Test" reaches its end on the strength of three more very compelling pieces, the last of which is the class of this album in my opinion. First is the grinding 'News Real Life'. The riddim on this song is kind of ponderous and it kind of dominates what you notice here (you're going to have pay some special level of attention to get this song). There are nice things to be noticed being said on the song, and given its title, I was very interested in what Benjamin had come up with. But I didn't particularly like this one. 'Upfull Day', on the other hand, I have grown to enjoy somewhat. The final of the previously released singles, the Jazzy effort is bright, vivid… and still kind of odd. I was LOST several times here and I probably still am, but I think the composition is about how music applies a certain level of colour or dye to certain things in life and how mentioning things in song can help the masses to take notice them and take more of an interest as well. And finally is my absolute favourite song to be found on "Stand The Test", 'Lamb Skin'. In almost every category in which I measure how much I appreciate just about anything, the title track is the best song on this album, but something about the closer just grabbed my senses and emotions and forced me to take a deeper listen. What I found after that was quintessential Vaughn Benjamin and Midnite - finding sense where none seems to exist. Chaining together words and ideas with no links and just speaking from his mind on a tune which comes as much as someone just speaking their mind as it does an actual piece of music.

"All inclined inna heart and mind and soul -
And inna spirit
Haffi live it, if its lyrics, spit it
Straight up from the top wi get it"

This song shows what no one else can do in Reggae music as, unobservant of sound and everything else, Vaughn Benjamin has a point to make and he does it to wrap up the album.  
Overall, while "Stand The Test" isn't amongst the range of the best Midnite albums that I've heard, it still is a relatively decent set and one which, for what it is, offers a whole heap of variation and colour. Because of how diverse the sound is, it may be a fairly nice selection for newer fans. As for older ones… you're going to get it regardless of what I say, but there should be more than enough material here, particularly on the lyrical side which you're likely to enjoy. That is what the album has going for it MOST: I don't know if it will ever be given credit as such but "Stand The Test" well finds Vaughn Benjamin in a fine form with his words (and that's saying a lot) and he really puts forth some fine performances throughout. So, while Midnite and Iaahden Sounds first collaboration may not be gold (although there're a few nuggets to be found here), it is a satisfying set and one which provides a healthy serving of brain food… now what's next?! 

Rated: 3/5
Iaahden Sounds
CD + Digital

Review #523