Friday, April 6, 2012

'The I-Brid': A Review of "Crying To The Nation" by I-Octane

Progress! I'm almost there now, but I currently have a picture of myself in my head as a very very bitter and angry seventy or eighty year old man, still hilariously addicted to Dancehall and Soca, constantly feeling the NEED to defend the music of 'my day' against whatever people will be listening to in forty or fifty years. I do consider myself, happily, a very modern person, however, I'm firmly of the belief that "modern" will one day very soon cease of that particular current day and instead mean RIGHT NOW -- forever. Until that day comes, however (if it hasn't already) (biggup Dancehall) (I mean actual Dancehall) I'll be one of the most ardent supporters of today's musicians and one of the most beautiful reasons why is STYLE. I'm damn curious what fans and other artists of just a decade and a half ago would think of someone like Aidonia or Busy Signal or Saïk. All of whom, while supremely talented, have styles, or elements within their styles are completely and wholly emblematic of the passage of time. They sound like DJ's from the future and, really, while they couldn't, in full, have existed in any other era besides their own, what they do, particularly in the cases of Aidonia and Saïk, seem to be pure (and WICKED) mechanical advances on the works of some of their most talented predecessors. Still, despite the lyrically Darwinian performances of Saïk and Aidonia and the full on assault on musical tradition of Busy, to my opinion, the most clear case of 'the signs of the times' is definitely the presence of one Byiome Muir, better known as I-Octane. The arrival and subsequent rise to power of the Clarendon born artist, while damn remarkable in terms of how quickly and forceful it has been, shouldn't really be much of a surprise. In fact, you can almost say that it was PREDICTED by many. As a direct musical 'descendent' of the likes of Sizzla Kalonji, Capleton, Anthony B and others -- artists who made their respective names as either cultural/spiritual lights or in the Dancehall, before adding the other dimension to their style -- Octane has managed to take things a step further. His style is one bathed equally in the Roots and Dancehall arenas and the result is, very cleverly, one of the most interesting artists to emerge in Reggae in a very, very long time. 

Busy! [as hell]
Within that very unique style, Octane has become a very nice contrast to some of his more rootical peers such as Etana and especially Tarrus Riley (more on him later). While they've also exhibited a level of musical evolution, they've done so within the very familiar settings of traditional Roots Reggae. Octane clearly hasn't, his style is one which is so wonderfully rough around the edges that it, again, literally takes the genre and reshapes it just a bit and we can well look forward to, a decade on, young artists coming up and saying that they grew up listening to I Octane day and night. Octane's winning formula has gone over so well with fans, starting a few years back with songs like 'Stab Vampire' and 'Gun Rise' with Teflon (another young[er] artist with an interesting mix, although in his case, Teflon seems more comfortable doing Roots OR Dancehall, and not necessarily so much doing both simultaneously) and he's developed into not only one of the most well known Reggae artists on the scene today, but EASILY one of the genre's most consistent lights as well. 

So, with such a quick history behind oneself, the next step is pretty evident and we've now arrived there. Back in 2010 we began to hear rumours that an album was coming from I Octane and although it's taken a couple of years, we're now there as out now is the very much anticipated debut album, "Crying For The Nation". The album was actually given a release date of last October, I believe, before VP Records jumped on board to handle the distribution. On the controls are a variety of different maestros, however, the album is executively guided by the same Robert Livingston who is best known as probably the second biggest reason you know the name Shaggy as not belonging to a cartoon (behind, of course, Shaggy himself) (biggup Shaggy). I was REALLY looking forward to this album and I'd been hoping to hear it now for pretty much the past three years, after when it became clear to me (and everyone else) that I Octane had some serious superstar potential. While the style is very much that is rough, as I said, it's also one which is very radio and fan friendly. It's not the sleek and refined on top of refined and pristine type of vibes that you're going to get from Riley and Duane Stephenson and the likes, but you can't hear Octane's music and say that it's limited to a certain side of the music because, again, he mixes so many different things in and does so, so effortlessly, that so many people have gravitated towards it. All of that would make expectations high also, and it did, but really in terms of quality, while you can argue about something being "GREAT" or "AMAZING", there was absolutely no way that this was going to be a bad album. You could even construct an album wholly on proven hits from the artist over the past  few years and have a project which is likely to do very well from Octane and really one of the real highlights of Reggae albums in 2012. In a sense, that's what VP and Livingston has done with "Crying To The Nation", with a bit of nice twists and turns thrown in to catch the eyes and they just always do that anyway. So, to the surprise of absolutely no on in particular, the album is stellar from beginning to end and it becomes a near perfect introduction to I Octane for newer fans and a pure confirmation of talent, as if we needed such a thing, to people like you and I.

'Lose A Friend'

My first thought about the album after really digging into it was that it might've been somewhat late in order to show I Octane in his brightest light. He's just had SO many big tunes that came even a year before its release that you wouldn't want to put them on the album (no 'My Life') ["no easy like 1, 2, 3"] ["no easy like do re me"] (BOOM!) and remain current AND add a few other things, it's impossible. But as active as he's been, thankfully, he's rarely dropped a tune which isn't readily available to the masses. Speaking of shining brightly, that's exactly what the infectious 'Rules Of Life' does which opens the debut set from I-Octane, "Crying To The Nation". I am going to talk about this tune, but I first have to mention how the chorus has completely captivated my daughter - "play oh eh eh song." And she isn't the only one, but I'm easily entertained. This delightful tune is a newer piece, specifically for the album I believe, and it's a special tune. Octane's rugged vocals don't sound like something which would spice such a bouncing riddim this nicely but they do and they do with a very upful and inspiring message on the big opener. Next up is the more familiar big sufferer‘s anthem, 'Help I Please'. This song is pretty HARSH if you really [over] listen to it, it's a very loud and ringing tune, but it doesn't really present itself like that initially. Whatever your idea behind its make-up, however, you can well feel the passion in the intent behind it, yet as it goes on, Octane changes things up just a bit, but in the process makes his message even more urgent and noticeable. The tune is one of the bigger here and is another piece quite difficult to shake from the brain as well. And wrapping up the first batch of songs for "Crying To The Nation" is my choice of the album's finest showing, the Dean Fraser produced 'Vanity Will Come'. This one . . . I spent a LOOOOOOONG time enjoying - It is a BEAUTIFUL song! Octane speaks on the many struggles youths can face in attempting to rise themselves out of poverty and it goes in so many other directions as well, in particular how important it is for people to maintain a proper course in life and overcome so many aspects of it. 

“Fling a bag a salt pon ghetto people like a frog you know
But mi come fi tell unuh the truth, mi nah con unuh
So ghetto youth be careful how you take on the streets -
Left unuh parents inna heap 

I nah come fi fling bag a salt like a frog you know
Defend Black Woman dem wi have you know
Cut and clear di way so ghetto youth dem nah trod di wrong avenue 
Bring out di glory weh unuh have in you!” 

As I said, "Crying To The Nation" is very much a blend of well known songs with new[er] pieces thrown in as well and because of that, if you're even somewhat of a casual fan of I-Octane's you're likely to find yourself going down the tracklist and really being pleased by what you see, even before vibing the album. Surely you'll remember one of the biggest hits of Octane's entire career, the scathing 'Nuh Love Inna Dem'. Here is the PERFECT example of the artist mixing different styles in a single track. The direction of this song is certainly a more Roots-centric one, but just about else everything about puts it near the Dancehall spectrum and it also adds quite a bit of SPICE to the album as well, but you don't need me to tell you that now. Immediately following that tune is another one certain to be recognizable to fans, the obligatory ganja tune, 'Puff It'. This is probably one of the better lyrical performances that I've heard from Octane . . . Like EVER, especially as the song progresses as he really focuses and it gets kind of funny, but damn hypnotic at the same time. 

“Cah mi need dis fi inhale & exhale
Mi have nuff high grade -
Mi nah save it fi a next day
Doctor dem tek a x-ray
And seh mi lungs dem black lak di ashtray 
Yow, mi nah nah stop puff it
Mi sew it up wid knife or cutlass 
And now mi woman ah complain ‘a what kinda love dis?’
A rough love so hushes!”

Later, there's a new take on an older track as 'Missing You' gets a brand new rinse courtesy of Agent Sasco. The original Cashflow (who do quite a bit of work on this album) vibed track wasn't one of my favourites, but I enjoy this one so much more and HOPEFULLY, I Octane can return the guesting role later this year when HOPEFULLY Sasco delivers his own new album. 'Once More', while not such a grand deviation from 'Missing You' is definitely a song that I do like. That song just has such a BRIGHT feel to it that it's really difficult not to get drawn in on that case and with it being a tune that is pretty much sang by Octane, it's a very well done and colourful lover's piece. The HUGE title track brings the album named after it to its gorgeous end and this is a song which, it should go without saying (but I'm going to say it anyway) is one of the best on the album and one of the most STERLING of Octane's career. You have this vastly vibed tune which gets larger and larger after every spin through, even these days. Still, with ALLLLL of that being said (and with a lot more to say still) the single most recognizable track on the album is 'Lose A Friend'. TEARS! Love the song and everyone else does too! 

'L.O.V.E. Y.O.U.'

As for the newer tunes on the album, 'All We Need Is Love', expectedly, has caught a great deal of attention and probably largely due to that "featuring Tarrus Riley" segment attached to the end of the album. A combination with Riley and Octane is something really big and the tune does not disappoint at all! There's a bonafide future hit on an album which is brimming with them. Also pretty expected is the fact that VP stuck out Alborosie, yet again, for a combination on one of their albums. Here, he chimes in on the excellent 'Space For All of Us' (I got this album so long ago that this song wasn't even on board, 'Still Holding On', another big tune, was in its place) which arguably has just as much potential as the tune preceding it. Also new to me is 'System A Beat Dem', which is GOLD. This tune is sonically such a joy to listen to and then you get into the lyrics and what explodes is this very intelligent social commentary with this cool delivery. That's a song which is so powerful and such a mighty example of what Octane can do well that you really want to see it get a big push in some way. BOOM! 'Zion Awaits' is a very different sounding tune, but not a bad one at all. It will probably take a bit of 'tilling' (did you catch that???), but it's in there, it's a big big track. Also rather metabolically challenged is the Seanizzle steered 'No More Violence' (biggup I-Octane for almost always saying his producer's name so we don't have to look it up when I don't know it). This song is an antiviolence piece (duh), but it's a pretty personal one to my ears because it's written basically from the perspective of someone outside looking in, extremely closely, but it comes so close to drifting on the inside also, which makes it somewhat complex, but no less harder on the ears and the senses. Oh and the riddim is BIG! There's also the curiously titled 'The Master's Plan', which caught my attention quite awhile before even hearing it. This effort is kind of a Gospel-ish song [not really what I'd normally call "traditional Gospel", but not far from it either]  and a straight forward chant, which is slightly out of the norm of what you typically get from Octane, but clearly it isn't outside of his capabilities and we're actually still trying to find out what is. And finally is the slightly older 'L.O.V.E. Y.O.U.'. Do I like this song? Of course I do. While not one of my favourites on "Crying To The Nation" (and nor am I very fond of the spelling bee type of tracks), this one has something very broad about it and somewhere in that space, apparently, is something for my ears and the same can be said for this entire album.


Overall, I don't think a great case needs to be made on the quality of this album (even though I just spent 2400+ words doing exactly that), because of who we're dealing with here. Consistency is a beautiful thing, I don't know if I-Octane will EVER have an album that he's interested in making be less than VERY GOOD, because his style is one, all of his own doing, which lends itself so well to an album form. These are sixteen big tracks and that's very substantial! Also enormously substantial is I-Octane, himself. I've been so impressed by his music and the way he's presented himself over the past few years and, as I said, I was so much looking forward to dealing with this one and now I'm already looking forward to the next one. "Crying For The Nation", as large as it clearly is, is only the first step in a career which figures to bring in even bigger works from an artist whose very presence and talent is as much of a testament to the 'new school' of Reggae music as any thing or any one else that you're going to find. EXCELLENT! 

Rated: 4.85/5
VP Records
CD + Digital

Review #348

1 comment:

  1. Give thanks Ras Achis - "LOSE A FRIEND" - very happy to have this track from Truckback Records, produced by Steve and Adrian Locke on this album Big Up Octane and to Nigel Staff for his brilliant keyboards on the track.... "LOSE A FRIEND" is timeless.. #Salute to Robert Livingston and VP for putting the track on I-Octane's "Crying to the Nation". Bless. Music Mi Seh.