Friday, March 1, 2013

The Vault Reviews: "Momentum" by Midnite

No shadows. I spoke a bit on the last installment of our running look back at albums from the wondrous Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite - about how it seems as if certain labels have so much of their musical identity tied to Midnite's music. When you take a glance at what they've done, the entire catalog, you'll certainly notice big names such as I Grade Records, Lustre Kings Productions and others which are initially synonymous with the music of Midnite to their fans, but what you may not notice are others, such as Higher Bound Productions in the aforementioned case, for the "Bless Go Roun" album, are perhaps even more the music because it is the vast majority of what they do. Similarly, today we look at another label which has done the same thing and is maybe even a greater and more vivid example of that. Over the past few years when you had a desire for a Midnite album, there is a pretty large chance that if you satiated that wanting, you've done it with an album from Rastar Records. They've made so many Midnite albums in the last few years and they've definitely been the main source of maintaining the entity's extremely active level of prolificacy when it comes to albums (and you simply don't see random singles on random riddims coming from Benjamin and company. Albums are just what they do) So, as I've said in the past, although those albums don't tend to be exactly the most popular of releases, the full union of Midnite & Rastar Records has been a numerically dominant one in recent times. HOWEVER, there has been 'space' in between those pieces and, by my most surely incorrect of calculations, the most active of space fillers (literally, not in terms of quality) has been Fifth Son Records who have also had a pretty healthy release schedule for Midnite albums, having pushed five albums to date in, roughly, the same timeframe that Rastar has done seven. Now, what is probably the most interesting aspect of the Midnite/FTR relationship is that, to my recollection at least, I don't think that the label has EVER done a project with anyone who was not Midnite. That isn't a situation which exists for Higher Bound Productions and surely not Rastar or, really, any of the other Midnite active imprints from recent years. When Fifth Son has a new album, you can be virtually assured that Midnite has a new album.  
"Standing Ground" [2008] & "Standing Ground Dub" [2011]
And they've [both] had some very good ones. The most memorable product of the link was it's second. Back in 2008, Fifth Son Records delivered what may just be one of the most popular and well regarded Midnite albums of all time, the… FUN "Standing Ground". That set was the first (and only) double disc release from the 'group' and it spanned twenty-four tracks and more than an hour and a half of music. There was also a dubbed out version of "Standing Ground" a few years on, the first Midnite/FTR piece, "Suns Of Atom" (a very nice album) in 2006 and just last year there was a record which I LOVE more and more every time I hear it, even still today, "In Awe". Also within that lot, from 2010, was a project which didn't receive the attention of "Standing Ground", but may just be the second most well known FTR album, the most fittingly and appropriately titled "Momentum"

All of these albums, regardless of how well I know them and how much time I've spent listening to them, tend to stick out in my memory for their own unique reason. In the case of "Momentum", I always remember it for being a piece whose name so eloquently describes my own personal appreciation for it. Not only did I not enjoy it much when I first heard it (and I know exactly why that was and I'm going to tell you in a minute), but I didn't hate it either. I didn't dislike it. It didn't make me happy or sad or anything. It… really didn't do anything for me and, for one of the very few times, I had encountered a full album for which I had very little opinion and was almost wholly apathetic towards. It was just a an album from Midnite. But my opinion wasn't the prevailing one and, in its time and probably a bit beyond, "Momentum" seemed to do quite well for itself - and then I finally started to come along. When you actually got into the music of this album, you heard what I heard originally. Because of his style (one in which it isn't rare at all for the riddim track to be full-on ignored at times), Vaughn Benjamin's music doesn't lend itself particularly well to the construction and 'preservation' of MELODY. Because of his ability to be an almost overwhelming lyricist, however, you won't find too many people who care who is Midnite that mind that aspect too much. So, for that to be a point worth mentioning in the case of "Momentum", you know it had to be even more sans melody and dynamicity than is 'generally' the case. What would change for me in reference to the album's quality later was, along with paying a stronger attention to what was being said, I actually started concentrate more on what I was hearing. In doing so, "Momentum" began to pick up steam (forgive me, I had to) and become an album that I really started to like and all of this happened within a year or so and probably a little less actually. It became far more of an interesting listen than I had given it credit for being and while Midnite's entire discography probably STILL offers about fifteen or so sets which I would call even more dynamic and 'easier' spins, "Momentum" eventually would become a favourite of mine and has remained so in the relatively brief three years of its existence. Also, I really enjoy albums which not only provoke and promote thought (and you won't find a release from Midnite which does not do that), but also take a nice amount of time to really grip a listener and the journey to comprehension of this one, in particular, has been damn enjoyable. 
"Suns Of Atom" [2006] & "In Awe" [2012]
The production for this album comes via one John Juaquin Wilson who, I believe, is the head of the label, as well as Benjamin himself. Perhaps most interesting about Benjamin's prolificacy is that, unlike Sizzla, Anthony B, Jah Mason and other extremely (or formerly extremely) active artists, he almost always has a hand in production and it seems as if it is rarely the case where someone presents him with a bag of riddims, he writes and records and is done with the album. While we continue to wonder if there're maybe two or maybe even seven Vaughn Benjamins, what we can say that is that getting started the "Momentum" album from Fifth Son Records back in 2010 was a tune in the album's title track (also known as 'Stinga'), which really encapsulates my feeling for the album named after it. I didn't have much of a feeling for the tune, good or bad, the first few times I heard it, but I can remember all of that changing when, for some reason, I decided to really take a more thorough listen to it and what I got was a golden song. The melody here is subtle, but it is definitely present (I may even say it is one of the more lively songs on this album) and, of course, the knowledge is well intact on the brilliant opener. Second is a piece which has, arguably, become one of the most popular songs from this record, the lovely 'Life Is Sweet'

"Seet, sufferation come fi sift di chaff from di wheat
Regardless, conquer don't know wrong retreat
Preserve the little good inside that life is sweet

Life is sweet!
Life is sweet!
That life is sweet!
Life is sweet!

Don't be overpowered by di wrong, be decreased
Let the goodness of Jah increase
Let the goodness of Jah increase
Every sound, every sound that lion shout out of mouth
Things that di urban jungle no prepare it about
Element of word, element of sound
So hurry up and make haste - come and chant it down!
Make the Inity coalesce around
Don't let the vibes of grudge hold, come in - 
Inna di scene"

Sometimes I listen to songs that have grown on me over the years and I get to a point where my lack of initial regard for it is just puzzling! I don't know why I wouldn't have enjoyed a tune like this ever. It's fantastic! On the other hand would be a song such as 'Strengthen Fully' and its LUSH riddim ["and they see they can't find di locks dem key"] ["and they see they can't find di locks dem key"] [BOOM!], which was one of just a few songs here which I did actually enjoy from very early. These days it hasn't diminished at all and, though I dare not to use the word "classic", personally it is a significant standout for me. Excellent start. 

As I have found to be the case - when you break down an album in a great amount of detail, it tends to reaffirm most of your positions and ideas and, because of that, I experience a great deal of reaffirmation in the case of "Momentum" which has even gathered more force for me now. Its most 'forceful' moment in my opinion was and remains the MAMMOTH 'Very Many' and that's saying a lot because, as I'm about to tell (and have already) there're some very nice tunes on this album, but none strike heavier for me than this piece which is a living and breathing form of musical meditation and education. 

"The whole world seeking donation not because you paying it
It's still a need
Therefore ah request and ah request demand specified manners and decorum
Like the difference between a demand and a command - and a supplication
Everyone straight-up -

BOOM! Way back when I first heard it, I knew the tune was a significant one and it's only grown in stature from then. A big tune. Apart from that tune, close your eyes and pick a random track on this album, most likely you'll come across another good one. Try the somewhat edgy, but no less genius 'Corn an Bread' ["where your spliff and your lighter and your drink is - should be some place good to live"]. I listen to this song now and, again, I'm left wondering why I didn't hear it at first and… maybe it wasn't even on the album three years ago! It was, but time and perspective have given it spice and now it is excellence to my ears. Check the THICK 'No Doubt' as well. Here is the type of tune, exactly, which I would have pointed to as having a dearth of melody - but it is not. What I hear now is nearly a powerful sonic experience and although there are better songs on this album (I THINK), this piece is to be held in a very high esteem although it is a song from this album which has largely been forgotten. The same cannot be said for 'Hustlin', which was always quite well received if I recall correctly and rightly so. The delivery and the lyrics on this song are the real highlight (even though the riddim is quite lively) as Benjamin takes a finely detailed and very clever look at day-to-day living. Later on "Momentum", we also get a solid pair of tracks in 'Living One' and 'Sustainable Living' neither of which, even now, are not the most sonically pleasing moments on the album (they could both be completely sans music altogether and not lose a thing in my opinion), but like many of Vaughn Benjamin's songs, they both manage to strive, and strive greatly at some points, due to a level of lyrical dominance rarely if ever matched by any of his peers. Between the two I do prefer the slightly brighter latter, but both are very strong. 

"…In recent history, but at a different phase of 'just couldn't see'
Don't grudge these their chances to rise up and learn and be
How to make sustainable happiness free
Freer than corn, ethanol and ganja degree
How to make sustainable happiness free
Well, freer than corn, ethanol and ganja degree
Rastaman within a town, Rastaman out inna country 
Rastaman with credit card is access code simply"

The four lasting songs on the "Momentum" which I have yet to cover, at least to my opinion, along with 'Very Many', 'Strengthen Fully' and maybe one or two others, represent an even larger step-up from many of the other surely GOOD and better songs on the record. The first of them is the downright dangerous and BEAUTIFUL 'Don't Be Scared'. There is absolutely nothing not enjoyable on this song. It may not jump out at you, but if you give it the opportunity to, it does prove to be have a nice sound and the lyrics… well: 

"Don't be scared and scorned
How not to be scared and scorned -
When the life movie scary and the monsters are coming out of di barn
Today a man will tell you seh he is the born demon from start
And carry all symbology dat tell you seh he played his part to heart
What out of heaven and earth Jah Rastafari cast
As HE is the First and HE is the Last -
No man ahgo have no say deeper than that!"

It's not lacking at all in the facet either. 'Real An Raw' is another selection which really reached me greatly as well, although I will say that it took awhile and it wasn't actually until I really dug in to it that I noticed how much I enjoyed this song. There's also 'Stay', which actually 'halts' he "Momentum" (it's the album's last song), which also is a composition which had to grow on me a bit and I had to take a look at it from every angle I could think of to arrive at the conclusion that it was nearly massive. No such growth, at all, however, was required for 'The Quickening' (because there can be only one), which is awesome and always has been. 

"When can't see the road, yet the vision is sure now
Obey Rastafari who's been seeing all the anything -
Impulse and congratulated spontaneity
Where bout into complexity
Every present from in protein stored abundancy
Hear - Rastafari store up blessing
Indeed to vitalize nostalgia 
Creating good memory

It is probably my second favourite song on an album which offered up a healthy amount of favourites. 

Overall, while, like I said, I had already come around to the point of respecting the "Momentum" album a great deal prior to this breakdown, as has been the case with these, I have an even denser respect for it at this point. This was a very complex album (even on Midnite's own scale, which is several times more complex than almost anyone else's) and really it deserved three years worth of thought and it may deserve another three and three after that to make it entirely clear. Where it stands now, however, is very good and I'm happy to see that it hasn't been forgotten and a great deal of Midnite's fans had it resonate with them more immediately. "Momentum" stood and stands as a fine addition to the Midnite catalog from a producer who has proven very useful and fruitful over the years. And we continue…. 

Rated: 4.35
Fifth Son Records
CD + Digital 

Review #420

No comments:

Post a Comment