Tuesday, April 10, 2012

'The Kaleidoscope': A Review of "Mental Maintenance" by Konshens

Blend dem. Probably for as long as there's been more than a single genre of music, there's been someone, somewhere trying to combine their sounds together. So much so is that the case that on some [not too] far off day in the [not so] distant future, there may not even be different types of music and instead there'll be just one category called - "Music". If/when that occurs, good luck with your shopping. Until then, however, we'll see ancestral evidence of this coming day as, within Reggae and Soca there seem to be more and more TALENTED individuals who come from have those genres as a background and add spices from others to come up with their foundation styles, respectively. It's always been the case that you'll see plenty of artists from different genres incorporating Reggae into their music - such as Hip Hop and Pop, particularly, and we even see artists who frequently do this. But not even in ultra crossover-friendly days of Shabba Ranks and Super Cat, have we ever seen this occur to this degree in the opposite direction. The stereotypical Reggae singer has becomes something totally different, even in the eyes of 'mainstream' audiences. The most obvious example for anyone who hangs around these parts, of course, is Sara Lugo, but hers a case which has so many different and powerful eccentricities that it would present me with wayyyyyyy too many appetizing moments of digression. Instead, today we're going to take a look at an artist who, on the strength of a very unique and OPEN style has forged himself into becoming truly one of the biggest names in all of Reggae and Dancehall music and he's done it without ever actually and completely falling out of the truest of modern framings of either styles. Meet Konshens. I don't think the artist has been around in the music altogether for a decade just yet, but it already seems as if he's had about three or four careers of musical presence and, in however long he's been with us, he's managed to become easily one of the most talked about lights in Reggae music and that's just on the surface. Digging deeper, we immediately see that Konshens' rise to prominence has been anything but conventional and for someone who brings to the table what he does, it shouldn't have happened in any other way. 

His big hit, 'Winner', was probably when most of his fans began to really take a proper notice of Konshens' talents and even if we start from there, he's definitely had a very colourful career and one which is so unique that it stands out even amongst some of his . . . Very, very odd peers. But because he's been around from a surprisingly long time, the history of Konshens goes back to even the days of when he almost voiced exclusively alongside his brother, Delus (more on him later), as part of the duo, Sojah. Together, they released a pair of solid albums , "Sons of Jah" (which was exclusively Japanese, I believe) as well the very strong "Modern Revolution" for Irie Vibrations. And a significant point could be made that all of that, plus Sojah changing their name to 'Konshens & Delus' in order to focus on the respective solo careers of both, happened before Konshens reached his prime as an artist which is seemingly well in progress now. 

"Sons Of Jah" & "Modern Revolution"
So, how should we celebrate? The most obvious next step would surely be a full debut solo album (he did release "Real Talk" a couple of years back, which was a Japanese only release) which is exactly what we now have in the form of "Mental Maintenance" which comes via VP Records and Konshens' own Subkonshus Music imprint. The album is a very full and vibrant (biggup Vybrant) display of Konshens' talents and a style which is very difficult to qualify. To my ears, the artist incorporates elements of Hip-Hop of R&B and subtly of even Jazz into his music which is most often called Dancehall and it often is, but his blend of Dancehall is somewhat different than you'll typically find even in this era where the music, itself, has hauled in the influence from several different genres. Konshens' Dancehall has a very lyrical ear to what is a more traditional Roots type of sound and ideology. The aforementioned tune, 'Winner' is a very good example of this. It was regarded as a Dancehall tune and still is, but that isn't Dancehall, it's essentially a Hip-Hop song (retrospectively a WICKED one, mind you, but Hip-Hop still) and it too has lyrics of the impact variety and not necessarily 'time to have fun'). Insofar as you can give him an actual running 'style', that is Konshens' style, he combines several different genres to come up with a winning formula and it is WELL winning all over "Mental Maintenance". The album, not too dissimilarly from "Crying To The Nation", the stirring debut album from I-Octane which we last dealt with (and a large amount of other Reggae albums as well), also does a bit of mixing on its own as it compiled with both new[er] and old[er] songs to give a pretty good mix of exactly where Konshens has been and to where he's likely headed also. It should also be said just how high profile of a project this release has come to be. It's pretty near impossible to deny that Konshens has certainly become one of the most popular acts in Reggae amongst hardcore fans and it's a quality which has been shown in so many different ways (including the anticipation surrounding this album) and because of that you have to place it, on paper at least (and it is a very good album as well) with many of the high profile releases we've already seen in 2012 and we're going to see coming in the next seven and a half months. The remaining question, of course, is with someone as varied and as intelligent (more on that later also) as Konshens seems to be, does "Mental Maintenance" live up to the lofty expectations and is it a winner? Oh yeah. 

'World Citizen'

I have to say that one of the most interesting and compelling aspects of Konshens' style is just how accessible it is and I don't mean that in the way that I normally might. Sure, you'll be able to appreciate this set if your background is in a variety of different genres besides Reggae (don't know if you'd want to read this review, however), but for Reggae fans who aren't necessarily the biggest fans of the artist's, this is very easy to latch onto. Although he does add different elements into his music, Konshens, on the whole, never actually takes a comfortable step completely outside of Reggae on the album and the results are BIG throughout. A good example of that would definitely be 'World Citizen' which opens "Mental Maintenance". I don't know which genre of music this would qualify as particularly, but I do so much enjoy it and you will also. The tune is one which is just trying to make the world a bit of a smaller and more comfortable by dealing with many of the things that everyone has in common and how the things we do not aren't really walls to be observed between everyone, but bridges of sorts. This tune, sonically speaking, isn't one which necessarily reaches and grabs me IMMEDIATELY, but when you deal with the entire vibes of the song, it's a damn hard one to not to like, as I said. The next tune in, 'Represent', also follows a similar set as the opener by really just lifting up your fellow man and woman and how important it is to maintain respect and love for people. Both of the two songs which begin "Mental Maintenance" really just make me SMILE! I'd hate be all sentimental and shit (I don't really care), but I will never overlook any tune which makes a person (especially one named Me) feel good and they both do that! And I'll skip much later ahead to a similar song by the name of 'Love This Life' alongside the very talented up and coming Mark Hize. It's another tune which just does something for the listener's nerves on the sound, but in this case, it's the actual purpose of the tune - to appreciate life and not take it for granted.


The opening duo of tracks set the stage finely for what develops into an exquisitely multihued album behind it. Things get fun immediately on the third track, the bouncing 'Simple Song'. This is a song which I just didn't like at all when I first heard it, but it's grown on me considerably since. The riddim, the Set It Off from Life Line, is . . . Basically crack for your ears so that may have something to do with it and while it still isn't one of my favourites on the album (but you should probably ask me about that again in about a month or two), it's really hard to get out of the mind. Similarly (but not really), is a tune which very much IS one of the highlights on the whole of "Mental Maintenance" to my opinion, the Ward 21 vibed 'Do Sum'n'. Again, you have another flaming riddim set behind this one and over it, Konshens makes a firm case for his presence should anyone want to challenge it on probably what is one of the best sounding songs he's done to date. The main sound on the tune 'Bounce' is something quite different, it's much harder and less 'playful' aesthetically, but it is another previous single which really livens up the project and as it progresses, you really find yourself coming back to moments like that. Later on, things get even looser on 'Gal Dem A Talk' which is now infinitely better in this version than the first time I heard it. It's been edited for good and added on is a hilarious interlude which (is too long) seems to suggest that Konshens REALLY needs to get a new number. The song has an old school edge to it and it's just straight forward deejaying on one of the only such displays during this maintenance session. Also in here should be the flashy 'Last Drink' which features Voicemail from last year. I'm still not quite sure what I think of the song as a whole, but the sound is not to be denied and again, it makes the album sound ultra-dynamic and opens it up for so many different types of vibes.

'Do Sum'n'

When things slow down, only a bit, they reach even higher heights for Konshens on the album. The prime example is also my choice of the album's single finest moment, the very complex (but not really) 'Pop In My Headphones'. Listen to this song and tell me it doesn't sound SO much like something you'd hear coming from Toussaint. It's very Jazzy and Bluesy (and I swear I hear the baseline for 'Natural Mystic' also) and it just latched itself on to me because I . . . Like to do exactly what the song says. 

“Today was one of those, one of those days -
When you feel things can’t get any worse
It’s too much to bear
I’m pulling out my hair
I think I want to disappear, disappear

But baby I, pop in my headphones
Build up a spliff
And let the music, take me away” 

The point here, to my overactive brain, is the Marley-esque prescription of 'when the music hits, you feel no pain' and, by extension, just the overall beauty and power of this wonderful music. Konshens kind of places it into a very relatable context by essentially saying that he comes home after a very hard day and uses it to unwind. And to go on top of that, I've really come to know this track as the title track because it truly speaks on a mental maintenance through the medium of music. Gorgeous! Not too far behind that tune for me was a next tune which was fairly new to me, 'Only Jah'. TEARS! This song didn't have to grow on me at all and I've been stuck on it in one way or another from the very first spin through. Despite the title and whatever you're probably expecting in terms of sound, it's not what I'd call a straight forward and stereotypical Roots track, it's slightly different and it's probably due to that originality in the arrangement, at least in part, why I like it so much. On the lyrical side, it's just a big uplifting tune and the chorus is easily one of the best you'll find here and I also like how the intensity builds throughout. Really really special song. Down the line, 'No More Tears' also impresses. With the relicked Rebellion Riddim (as soon as I heard it, I started to sing Gappy Ranks' tune 'Heavy Load' and I'm still listening to that song) behind him, Konshens digs into a very nice and personal social commentary. 

“Before you talk, seh di ghetto youths dem heart cold
Think bout di reason why dem become a lost soul
Because dem see too much death and sufferation 
All dat ah cause a destruction to wi nation
Not even the juvenile a road dem caah trust again 
Di one weh nah buss a nine, dem ah buss a ten
And dem nuh know family, dem no memba friend
Dem only know seh when dem dis again and dat again 
Wonder if a government to blame or a people
Wonder if di society getting evil
Because di average ghetto youth weh a seventeen - 
See at least thirty people dead inna di scheme
But who’s got the answers to alla wi questions?
Only Jah Jah we can lean our stress pon” 

If you haven't noticed (SHAME!), one of Konshens' favourite topics of discourse is definitely WOMEN. And he revisits that topic constantly throughout "Mental Maintenance" on many different trains of thoughts. The Bluesy 'Home Wrecker', obviously, is about the one who he might not want to spend too much more time around as he's now discovered that she might be a little insane (don't you hate it when that happens?) (. . . I don't) (love crazy women!) (biggup my Wife) (WHAT! Did I say that out loud???). 'Leave Your Side' (a fantastic song) is almost the opposite as here we have a woman who Konshens has identified probably isn't the best for him to be around but something about her makes it impossible for him to leave her alone. And that particular person is probably the same inspiration for the very interesting 'Wanna Be Done'. This song marks one of the very few times I find myself over thinking through a love song because it takes quite awhile for the title to be actually worked into the course of tune (a minute and a half). At its heart, it's an R&B song, a cool one and yet another dimension where Konshens' magic does work. And later, the album ends with a love song of a different type, 'She's Happy', which is for Konshens' daughter. Can't say anything bad about this one at all as the artist essentially hands over the reason for his being for the happiness of his daughter - I know the feeling - and most fittingly the tune does feature the aforementioned Delus who is also giving thanks for his child. 

And finally, thrown in are also two remixes of previously very popular tracks, 'Rasta Imposter' and 'The Realest [Song]'. The former is absolutely loaded, with the bros Riley, Tarrus and Wrath joining in as well as Konshens' artist, Darrio and some up and comer named Sizzla Kalonji. That song, which was very good as it was just goes up SEVERAL notches with a lineup like that blended in. For it's point, 'The Realest' lines up Bounty Killer with Konshens to push it even higher as well. The Killer, when at anywhere near his best , just SOARS on a riddim and I always thought that this one of his better contributions to anything over the past few years. 

“Fadda mi beg you fi no mek di world get di best of mi
Gimme di knowledge and di skill fi go round dem cleverly
Whole heap a idiot dem siddung and waan fi drain wi energy
But dem nah go live long enough fi si di end of mi
Cah Jah mi pray, and wi give thanks in every way
Protect mi foot dem when mi walk everyday
Everybody si di work and di dues weh wi pay
Obstacles inna wi way caan mek wi stray” 

Overall, two things really stick out here. The first is my only real critique of the album is that it probably would have been even better coming in six months or so ago. It does have quite a few new selections, but at seventeen tracks, you're going to be familiar with a great deal of it as well (and that may not be a bad thing here because there aren't really any songs, but it would have been even better if they were fresher in the mind). The next thing that I get, as I alluded to earlier, is just how INTELLIGENT Konshens must be to have developed his style into what we hear on the album and what we generally hear from him. I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of his, but I might have to rethink that after scrutinizing the music for the sake of this review. "Mental Maintenance" is damn impressive and one of the most remarkable aspects of it is just how Konshens has managed to create this special blend by taking bits and pieces of several different styles and making them all his own in one. In the process he's become one of the biggest names in the business and he's also just delivered what is likely to be one of the best albums of 2012. 

Rated: 4.45/5
Subkonshus Music/VP Records
CD + Digital 

Review #349

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