Monday, March 4, 2013

The Vault Reviews: "Ark A Law" by Midnite

Phantom. Popular artist - not a popular album. Not only amongst the truly most active of individuals does such a thing happen - but it does happen to the point where you have a very supported act put out a new project and there is… virtually nothing. It isn't unpopular or overlooked when compared to something or everything else they may've done - it is just unpopular on its own. Usually there is a pretty simple explanation for that when it comes to Reggae music: Bad promotion. I still maintain that there is an art form of some type when it comes to actually properly promoting Reggae albums. We are not talking about artists or stage shows or songs or riddims or anything like that. I think that albums, specifically, fit outside of those things and are in their own category and it doesn't seem like too many labels know how to do it well as of yet. Just last year there was a tied up pair of sterling examples of this in the form of Lutan Fyah's "Truly" and "Hold The Vibes" by Ras Attitude from a label by the name of One Drop Records. I don't know if they'd ever done anything prior to that, but to announce yourself to the public with a brand new album from Lutan Fyah and then another from Ras Attitude at the same time [!] is absolutely amazing, but I have NEVER seen anything in promotion of either of these albums and, most unfortunately, I think our reviews for both may be the amongst the very few material discussing them. You can also find similar releases in the, respective, catalogs of Sizzla, Luciano, Anthony B, Turbulence and others who've maintained healthy (and, at times, obese) album release schedules through the years), but when it comes to someone like… let's just say Midnite, for example, things get even stranger. As I've said in the past, the St. Croix Reggae superpower may just have the most passionate and loyal fans in the whole of the landscape of modern Reggae music. Looking through their catalog, you can find certain albums such as "Aneed" and "For All" which certainly weren't the most recognizable of releases, but they don't really register in the same way as the album with which we deal today. Also, to the case I've been attempting to make as far albums from Rastar Records not being amongst Midnite's most popular releases (although I think that is a concept which is going to be shifting if that level of quantity continues), all of that is a matter of comparing them to something else. If you look at what happened to an album such as "Ark A Law" - that was just something different! 

Where do we begin? Besides being not very old at all and coming at a point when Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite would have been enjoying what has to be considered one of the longest 'primes' in recent years (and is still ongoing), the 2010 release was also the second of the records from Higher Bound Productions - which means that it had an 'opening act' and in this case a good one - the first album was the "Bless Go Roun" album, which indicated that such a project was worth checking out. Furthermore, RIGHT NOW, the most recent Midnite studio album is "Free Indeed", the third Midnite/HBP album, which arguably gets more and more well known by the day (and that album is exceptional and you should pick it up if you have not) and should be doing quite well. So, while I have maintained that a large problem for Reggae albums has been promotion, or a lack thereof and I wouldn't put them in the category of I Grade Records, as far as making almost well known, I don't think that Higher Bound has a problem in that area for the type of music they do. But "Ark A Law" remains one of the least known albums in Midnite's catalog relatively recently and I don't even think that many of their even more passionate of followers paid it a great deal of attention either, which is completely strange if you know Midnite fans (and you do).  
"Bless Go Roun" [2007] & "Free Indeed" [2013]
Not to be confused with the Lion Tribe who have done a couple of Midnite albums for Fifth Son Records (one of which, "Standing Ground" (which was and still is very well known), may get my attention next), "Ark A Law" was a joint venture between Higher Bound and Lion I Music and was produced by another artist in Ishence, who does the work for HBP and a Jason Williamson. Personally, this album never made the biggest of impacts on me and I'm going to assume that was the reason it never seemed to do much - because people didn't like it. But that was my opinion prior to REALLY tuning it in and, as has been the case with Midnite albums for me lately (I am enjoying this so much - it's like getting new albums), my ears and my mind have been opened and although I still do not consider myself the biggest of Midnite fans, I'm going to continue to take this as far as I can and what I'm wondering is if I've been 'illuminated' to the level of now being able to appreciate what was very much a DARK album for me. My thought of "Ark A Law", in particular, was that it was a very skeletal album (a point which I still maintain is the case, although not as avidly as I once did) (more on that in a minute). What I mean is that there is very little of the way of appealingly merging vocals and riddim and there isn't much melody. Now, when you pass through an album, even if you listen to every song (and I did), and that is what you're looking for, you won't think much of "Ark A Law", I don't care how far you've been opened mentally and, save for a couple of songs or so, that was how I regarded this album for the past three years. Now? Things have changed. It was MUCH better than I ever even thought it had the capacity for being. So I was very wrong and everyone who completely let it pass - you made a mistake. Let me tell you why. 

As I said, musically speaking the "Ark A Law" album was a bit 'rigid'(I'll get the critiques out of the way right now). Vaughn Benjamin isn't someone who necessarily always cares about what track is playing behind him - his main focus, all of the time, is on his lyrics and lyrically speaking - this album is a star! And the shining begins on the very first track which is, in my opinion, also the single finest "Ark A Law" has to offer altogether. 

"Who was accused of a bad deed? Ganja
Ungrateful for the numerous cure weh Jah Jah send down
HEMP SAIL FLY ACROSS ALL YOUR PORT ENDEAVOUR
Sturdy ganja rope hold up ya boat yah 
Hold yah boat rope together
Old ungrateful dog ah utter
Nuff time when they bragging bout they pirate grandfather
How him smuggle hemp fiber out of India
This is how dem entrap, entrap and lure
How Selassie I a now di law dagga 
How dem done and set it ahgo must Ansa fa
See di sufferation and my heart feel that
VIP ah sit up inna opera box
How when the I & I ah chant a lot
How when di lightening applause adapt - 
Ah clap louder than anything you can crack back
Everything outta get and be got
Known for resistance and a special attack
Flying in - dem scientific wolf pack
Domestic entry dem use weh seh 'enter not'
Use people fi life pon you fi mek you react
DON'T BITE DI BAIT IF YOU KNOW SEH A DAT
Spiritually wickedness hold out a carrot
Weak link: Di rabbit weh ahgo bounce pon top
 All now dem done do di people dat
Di iniverse already exhibit a order

How dem done and set it ahgo must ansa fa
How dem done and set it ahgo must ansa fa
How dem done and set it ahgo must ansa fa"

Probably the single most vibrant and colourful selection on this album, 'Ansa Fa' is downright mesmerizing musically, but it is only a noteworthy characteristic from the track which is nearly flawless lyrically. And speaking of nearly flawless words, check the second tune in, 'Hunting Demeanor'. This composition, very much, is what I mean by saying a song is "skeletal" - save for an excellent extension on the piece which continues well after the song's lyrics are complete (although Benjamin does continue to be heard chanting indistinctly in the background) (another nice touch). Very easily this piece would have been just as enjoyable completely sans any music at all (and it isn't alone in that respect on this album) because, once again, it is what is being said that is the star as Benjamin delivers a very complicated, but GORGEOUS message. 'It Will Be', the third song on "Ark A Law", is somewhat similar, although that riddim is lovely. Again, it is  a song which, ostensibly, may be indistinguishable from quite a few others, but when you really tune into what is being said, you see that it stands up really high here and, again, it isn't alone. 

It is very subtle (VERY subtle), but the sound that does exist on this album makes a variety of different shifts and you hear songs continuously which go in a wide variety of different directions (whether or not you realize that is another case, however) throughout "Ark A Law". Take, for instance s song like 'Heavenly Heir' which is followed by 'Flakey' and then 'Rejoyce'. The first tune in that trio is (one of the best songs on the whole of the album) is almost a Hip-Hop song, with this kind of curious Arabian vibe behind it and Benjamin plays along with it for one of the only times on this project. 'Flakey', on the other hand, is even more Hip-Hoppish, but they lead into 'Rejoyce' which is… somewhere beyond my vocabulary I suppose. The delivery here and the sound really went to make it one of the most signature tracks from this album when I did not hold it in a very high esteem. It almost seems intentionally odd as hell. HOWEVER, somewhere --probably after hearing it around twenty times or so-- I heard something here and what I heard was a most casual although obviously 'programmed' level of lyrical education. Meanwhile, the album's second half has a decidedly 'brighter' sound to it than the first does, primarily. A song like the title track, for example, has a billion different things going on, not the least of which is the far more fiery delivery which, although I do enjoy the riddim on this one, would have probably made this one a very nice a cappella as well. 'Trodding Out' was one of the one or two favourites I had from "Ark A Law" before I really dug into it and while I now hear more than a few songs which're better, I still enjoy it quite a bit and I hear a more FULL sound behind it (maybe the single finest riddim on the record) as well. It is probably as straight-forward of an selection as you'll find here (which his likely why I liked it so much). It also has a sterling message about going through things and being appreciative of the levels you achieve.

"Jah Jah set it as a Trinity, di root
Trinity weh bearing fruit
Dem no respect weh Jah Jah order
Fighting over - under"

There is also the closer which is a fairly entertaining song - 'Springs'. I didn't at all recall this tune as sounding like this. While it doesn't rank amongst my favourites present here (my favourites from this album, as I'll tell you in just a second, are REALLY good), it is a very strong tune and much more so than I ever gave it credit for being. 

Along with the opener, to my opinion the four outstanding tunes make up the highest class of tunes on the whole of "Ark A Law". A song such as 'Law Of' has been a longstanding favourite of mind and now that I get to hear it with a reviewer's ear, it has opened up for me even more. I LOVE this song and although the riddim threatens to drown out the vocals here, should you pay a close attention, you will get a great lesson here from Benjamin. Also registering on those levels is knowledge packed 'Infinite Power' ["strong-arm-cologists still require knowledge-ists"] [BOOM!] and the nearly MASSIVE 'World Wide Get'. Both of these are song which had to grow on me just a bit, especially the latter. If we get into the subject of the Diaspora of Rastafari - that is a very unique one - included within the entire Afrikan Diaspora, which is how this tune is set. 

"Unusual I see you living out
Rasta spread out to worlds -
In diverse countries where you wouldn't think so
Haile Selassie I make it so
Provincial prejudices - predisposition underexposed 
Who couldn't be aware? 
How they just suppose? Seen"

Again, the song is a very complicated one, but what I ultimately took from it was how Rastafari has changed the world in its spreading. You listen to this song and you very much gain the impression that Vaughn Benjamin likely wrote it while on tour and just seeing how such a colourful and vastly diverse group of people reacted to and KNEW his music and embraced Rastafari. Finally is probably the second best effort on "Ark A Law" to my opinion, the special 'Outta Youth'. Like 'Springs' I just did not remember this song as being this good and when I heard it back for the sake of reviewing it, I actually didn't remember it much at all. The riddim is nice and it fits the kind of serious nature of the song in some way, but you what happens here is a downright DAZZLING linguistic display of knowledge.

"From survival ,l I done see it, make a genius outta youth
HOTWIRE ANYTHING AND ANYTHING TROUBLESHOOT
Poverty, I done see it, make a genius outta youth
Inventing style yah nah nuttin else fi use
Penalty fi deh yah over nuttin compute
Lack of comprehension, acting like competent truth 
Downpression, I done see it, make a brilliant outta youth 
Ends justify di means fi dash away you
Inna total Jahova light a spirit sky blue
Ites, Gold and Green yah flag it up in it too
Jah seh HIM neva take over the earth again wid water deluge" 

A song like this, which to my ears is Benjamin expressing just how talented he sees the younger generation as being (if you wanted to even further over-think it (and you know I do), you could even steer it in a musical direction and say that he's speaking of, perhaps, young artists coming up), is just "genius". I love the prevailing direction of the song and it also maybe one of the more dynamic tracks here as well. 

I do want to say something about Vaughn Benjamin, in general, as a writer. As ridiculous as it is to say (and it is), I think that he's somewhat underrated as a lyricist. I think that so many times people refer to him as "brilliant" and "a genius" and the likes but it's almost become somewhat of a clich├ęd thing to say about him and I do not think anyone has ever really taken an exhaustive look at his lyrical capacity which may be in a class of its own. And I say all of that to further highlight an album such as this one where, although you may not find it so brilliantly entertaining from a sonic standpoint (and I do not), focusing almost COMPLETELY on the lyrics make it a real winner, at least in my opinion. 
Overall, "Ark A Law" requires A LOT of patience and it is a release which seems to kind of explain the lack of reaction it received in its day. It is not an 'easy-listen' or anything like that. It requires a great deal of thought and persistence on the part of the listener. HOWEVER, because if you are going to listen to Midnite to any consistency, you're going to encounter situations like this often - I almost want to recommend this album to newer fans. Just get it out of the way! For a more seasoned type of fan, I don't know what happened here, it almost seemed like people were afraid of this album for some reason ("wi no fear none a dem!) ("wi no fear none!") (biggup Romain Virgo) and I don't see them coming back to it in a large way either, which is just too bad because while I hesitate to call it the finest lyrical performance of Vaughn Benjamin, I would put "Ark A Law" within his upper half, easily. So, free up about a week or so and TRULY dig into it and shine some light on what has become one of the most overlooked albums in recent times, to absolutely no fault of its own. Very nice. 

Rated: 4.15/5
Higher Bound Productions 
2010
CD

Review #421

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