Tuesday, March 29, 2011

'Like I Just Won A Million Dollars!': A Review of "Wotless by KES The Band

I speak often on the seasonal nature of Soca music and its ‘natural’ and inherent positives and negatives and probably the biggest of them all is that it changes the way attention or HYPE is sustained. That’s an issue, not only for particular artists in the genre, but for the music itself. In Reggae, a big tune can emerge at just about any time, but in Soca, depending on the region you’re talking about, you pretty much know when someone is going to bring their best stuff, each and every year and after that - Things change. When you take a step back and look at things on the biggest scale, it’s actually quite ridiculous just how competitive Carnival season is for Soca music and just how many things, besides actual hardware, is up for grabs. From the standpoint of a fan (which is what I am and which is what you should be), things are also difficult to sift through. The music is going to be promoted in such a way, obviously, that certain tunes from certain artists are going to be showcased more than others (regardless of the quality (or perceptible quality) of their music) and that surely will affect what the fans hear. Also, we’re people and because so, we have our favourites who, for us, are going to get more and more of our attention (and money) every season. So when you take all of this into account, it’s kind of hard and competitive, at times, just to be a fan even of Soca music. And then sometimes weird stuff just happens. I’d like to think that I’m fairly attentive, but sometimes I just miss things - And sometimes I just miss people altogether. In some cases it’s little things, like not hearing a tune here or there and hearing it for the first time only to figure out that it’s two, or three, seasons old or it may be that I’ll have a problem figuring out who sings a particular song (although admittedly, that happens a lot less these days) or something which will kind of pass me by, but it’s rare that it’ll be full blown (GOOD) artists who will. So, it is with a bit of shame that it’s taken me all the way to 2011 to TRULY appreciate the work of arguably one of the most popular Trinidad Soca acts in the . . . Trinidad, KES The Band.

'Wotless' @ Soca Monarch 2011

If you make Soca, no matter where you’re from, and your greatest of goals is to get Achis’ attention (then you are a fucking loser) the best way to do it is in some type of Soca Monarch competition. I absolutely love it in whatever form it may exist, so even if I’m not able to see it live (or on tape, even if I can just hear about how wonderful you were), if you do well in that form, then I’m going to pay attention to you (especially if you’re music is good). That’s what it took to get to me to become a fan of Kes The Band’s and REALLY take a listen to their music as the group’s lead singer, Kees Dieffenthaller, absolutely thrilled and dazzled Hasley Crawford Stadium with one of the greatest Groovy performances I’ve ever seen, which would net him his first Groovy Soca Monarch crown and at least one new fan (and a review of his new album as well). That’s what it took! Not being an oft-collaborator with one of my annual favourites, Nadia Batson (more on her later), not being one of the genre’s most visible figures in Trinidad, not being very popular in general and not even linking with a Reggae artiste in Tessanne Chin a year or two ago to do ‘Loving You’ which would become a bona fide hit. NONE OF THAT helped as much as Soca Monarch and . . . Yeah, as I said, that’s a bit shameful. My greatest source of embarrassment on that probably rests in the fact that, like I said, Kes is pretty active and I run into their music quite often giving me more than an adequate and AMPLE opportunity to jump on and they’ve also been around for more than couple of years (long enough to make three albums before this one). Of course, at the center of my ’catching on’ to KTB is not only just a big performance but, as is always the case, a really big fucking tune. This year, the group did the greatest piece I ever recall hearing from them (and again, I wasn’t paying the greatest attention beforehand) and it carried the season for them directly to a stage in front of me and now directly and thankfully to an album named after that big tune, ”Wotless”. KTB, unfortunately, becomes one of a very few big named Trinidad Soca acts to have dropped albums this year and it almost seems as if that number shrinks smaller and smaller each and every year, but fortunately they’ve been quite active. A couple of years back the band dropped ”On In 5” (which I actually own but haven’t listened to AT ALL) (a fact which will be changing sometime in April, I’m sure) and before that, there was ”Lion” and their debut set, ”Three Baldheads and A Dread”. “The Band” portion of ‘KTB consists of two of Kees’ brothers (Hans and Jon) and another close family friend (just covering the basics) and there’s a pretty good chance that the closeness, the inherent closeness, of the unit has had a lot to do with their success and there’s also a pretty good chance that such a set of circumstances will continue to lead them to an even greater success (although where you go from Achis Reggae - You can only go down at that point, I mean really).

Although KTB does come with a lot of versatility and ‘unusual’ overtones in their music, I will say that, at their best, they do Groovy Soca music. The sound is kind of playful, but at the same time it’s very polished and skilled and something you’d expect from people who spend a great deal of time in the company of the great Nadia Batson and are (apparently) good friends of Machel Montano as well. And their image seems to be refined also and much closer to that of someone like Montano than that of Bunji Garlin and Fay-Ann Lyons.


Subsequently, although (as you know if you read my work with any consistency) the real class of my ‘formal’ introduction to KES The Band - Their big brand new album for 2011, ”Wotless” is more cool and Groovy type of work, but it’s really beautiful and captivating type of work and it‘s also just FUN as Soca needs to be. None, of course, are more captivating than the album’s opener, its title track and the previously mentioned big tune, ‘Wotless’. What can you say about this one? In my COMPLETE and UTTER biasness, the two best Groovy Soca songs I heard from Trinidad this season were Destra’s ‘Cool It Down’ and ‘Mas & Wining’ by Patrice Roberts, but if I’m speaking from the brain - ‘Wotless’ was better than either of them. And when it came to live form, Kees DEVASTATED with a presentation of the tune which isn’t soon to be forgotten by anyone who saw it. The song is just so damn COOL and it, like I said, it’s FUN music.

“And I feel like -
I just win a million dolluz!
Everybody watching me -
Wearing a million colours!
You wanna talk?
Talk a day!
Cuz when I wine you go -
Talk all night!
When I getting on you go -
Talk all day!
Call yah friends and then
Talk all night!
Down south they go -
Talk all day!
Uptown they go -
Talk all night!
I don’t care what they say!

Cuz right now I just wotless
And I don’t really care less
My girlfriend she go get vex
My family go send text”

KTB’s big POWER tune (not really) of the season is up next and . . . I like it! The infectious ‘Ah Ting’ features veteran Kerwin Du Bois and it is STERLING! Although maybe somewhat gimmicky - You won’t care on such a tune - The gimmick, whatever it is, clearly works and good luck getting that damn chorus out of your head anytime soon. I do so LOVE the Bubble Up Riddim from a couple of years back (especially Patrice’s rendition of it) (“show me yah hands if you love di Carnivalllll. Show me yah hands if you love see bacchanalllllll“) (I digress), but I don’t know if I’ve EVER heard KTB’s tune on it, the very nice ‘Waistline Roll’. I still favour Roberts’ tune, but this one isn’t very far behind it at all and, in terms of tunes on the mid-level, it’s probably the best example of ‘typical’ vibes from the band.

'Ah Ting' featuring Kerwin Du Bois

My lack of attention in the output of KTB actually helps me a bit in listening to ”Wotless” because outside of a tune here and there, I’ve never heard most of this material although it’s built from tunes over the past two or three seasons or so, it’s still fresh to my ears. The tunes from 2011 are both familiar and fresh and quite good as well. The first of that lot of the remaining tunes is another big one, ‘Cock It Back’ which features Makamillion (a name to keep an eye on in the future??? Orlando Octave). This song has a bit in the way of Dancehall flavour and colours and obviously that’s no problem for me and it’s still very high level and polished Soca music as well, which makes it a real winner. Also new for 2011 was the very strange ‘Come Gyal’. If you hear this one and, like me, aren’t too fond of it, I’m going to suggest that you give it a few more spins before casting the final judgment. It may never grow to the point of being one of the best tunes on the album to your opinion (or mine, for that matter), but the tune with its weird electro-bubble appeal is better than you think if your first notion is a negative one. ‘Where Yuh From’, with its ‘larger than life’ vibes doesn’t require nearly the same amount of time in the way of growing pains because . . . Yeah it’s a HUGE sound, either you’ll love it or you won’t. The Electro Lights Riddim which backs it also backed one of Montano’s bigger 2011 tunes, the gorgeous ‘So High [A.O.A.] and this fun piece is nearly on those very high levels. Finally, representing KTB’s 2011 crop of songs on ”Wotless” is one of the album’s finest moments, ‘Fete Hard’. This one ALMOST reaches my preferred level of lack of sanity as it BOILS and does so on more than a single occasion. I’d probably still call it a Groovy tune in many respects, but labels aside, it is a BIG tune and, looking back, one of the better tunes of 2011 from anyone.

With all of that being said, however, my second favourite tune on the album (following the title track, of course) is also the second most familiar as I IMMEDIATELY recognized ‘Heaven’ and the fact that it features the aforementioned incomparable Nadia Batson. MADNESS! This one reaches on levels that my usual favourites do and - Really the great part about music like this is that it just makes you FEEL GOOD! You can say what you want about lyrical content (although that’s no problem here), but for me there’s a BIG place for music like this as Nadia and KTB create a SPIRITUAL WINE of mammoth proportions. I wish that I had been paying better attention last year, because it’s obvious that KTB had a pretty good season then as well. Besides ‘Heaven’, ”Wotless” features a bubbling batch of tunes circa 2010 from the group. Check the KNOCKING, ‘We Coming Down’. This one ISN’T one of my favourites here, but it’s clearly still very good and, listening to it now, it’s starting to get even better. I do LOVE (although probably not as much as my Wife) ‘Addicted’, however. This tune is another Groovy winner and a Socafied love song of a quality which is extremely high - One of the album’s finest. Later on we get a shot of ‘Melee’ which, although not as ostensibly chaotic as the title may suggest is MAD! I don’t know the technical linguistics for it, but there’s something just so incredibly FAST about this song that it seems to come and go in about a minute and not the near four minutes in actuality and I definitely have no problem with FAST.

'Heaven' featuring Nadia Batson

”Wotless” wraps up with two Road Mixes, for ‘Heaven’ and ‘Melee’ respectively. I’m not and never have been a very big fan of road mixes, in general (although they are very popular and much anticipated by a large portion of the Soca-loving community). Unsurprisingly I do favour the former of the two and I’m not totally against the latter either, which does no harm to this album at all.

Overall, I’m going to recommend ”Wotless” and do so even more sweepingly than I tend to do for Soca albums which I like even more than it. Soca is still (although it aches me to admit it) somewhat of an ‘underground’ genre and it’s always looking for someone to change that by once again taking the music to the foreground in ways that Kevin Lyttle, Rupee and others have done in the past and while I, ultimately, don’t think that will come from KTB, the people who REALLY like that kind of music are probably going to be blown away by what they hear here. Kes’ really polished and really refined style gives birth to vibes which are so wonderfully transferable that I’d think fans of Pop, R&B and maybe even Reggae can appreciate them. As for me, while it took a great big song served up via great big performance after years and years of knowledge to make a fan out of me, it’ll take something even grander for KES The Band to get rid of me now. Very nice.

Rated: 4/5
Kes The Band
CD + Digital
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