Hard to do. Clearly at this point I am so much enjoying our look back at the huge and decorated album catalog of the most interesting Vaughn Benjamin and Midnite and I find that, despite the kind of running theme I have of exploring albums which I was previously incapable of, each and every one of them has something different to offer. This is even so in the cases of their albums of which I am not particularly fond (and I still do not like the "To Mene" album, if you're wondering) - they all offer their own specific journey to comprehension and, at least for the most part, I'm still finding the passion to continue along and find more of them. Back to the unifying theme, however, it is still quite amazing when I hear something that I've heard for years and am now more 'open' to hearing in a different way. I even take this stance with albums which, perhaps, I have always held in some type of high esteem: They all just sound a little better now! That is the occasion with the album with which we deal today as well and it is one which, to my opinion, perfectly exemplifies what I am feeling about the wonderful music of Midnite these days. Albums that we've already covered such as "The Way" do it as well. What I am talking about is listening to a song (and in this case, an album virtually full of them) and being absolutely certain that if you were listening to this same music three or four years ago, it wouldn't do a damn thing for you. You wouldn't love it, you wouldn't hate it and you probably would never care whether or not you heard it ever again. And based on their massive following, I don't think that the kind of 'time-delayed' effect is something which is inherently within Midnite's music and it's also something which their music, over the last two years or so, has shown me, personally. You don't have to GROW UP and/or wait a loooooong time to be able to enjoy this music, at least not typically, but like I always say, most people are A LOT smarter than I am. And though it has taken far too long for me to catch on, now that I have, as you can probably tell, I'm going to continue to love every moment (or at least most of them).
The last time we dealt with one of these, it was an album I had for years before I realized just how good it was and today, while this album isn't nearly as old as the now seven year old "Ainshant Maps", coincidentally it is one which comes from a very similar source in the form of the Afrikan Roots Lab. Like every album from that label, "Ainshant Maps" (which was the third of five, although I believe that will change to six shortly with the coming of "Lion Out Of Zion") was an actual Midnite album, featuring production work from Vaughn's brother, the brilliant Ron Benjamin. Also, what you'll notice on albums from ARL is that they are also marked by considerably more musicianship work from Vaughn Benjamin. He'll play on a great deal 'Midnite' albums, but it seems as if he does more on albums which are actually from the entire group, with his brother. Of course, if it sounds good, You and I don't care who plays what, but I think that it does show a greater amount of interest and care on his part, if such a thing is possible, for the final result and that was also case with the latest album to appear on the ARL imprint, 2011's "Anthology".
|"What Makes A King?" |
Looking back now, it is rather interesting that "Anthology" was the second album on Afrikan Roots Lab in just a couple of years, following 2010's "What Makes A King?". Before that, it had actually been six years, back to the aforementioned "Ainshant Maps" that the label was awakened - which was a concept well utilized by "What Makes A King?" and a large selling point for it as well (emblazoned on the back cover of that album was actually "Recorded Produced Performed by Midnite 100% St. Croix Roots). That album received a great amount more attention than would and has "Anthology" and for good reason on the surface. First of all, it was the first of its kind in six yers and it was also more of a 'flashy' release than its eventual followup. "What Makes A King?" carried a track by the name of 'Emotions' which subsequently has become very popular and it resonated with new and old fans alike. In terms of its quality, however, while that album was very strong and has only gotten better in the three years following its release, "Anthology" surely wasn't to be overlooked either. Yes, it was slower and it could even be a bit lumbering at times, making a characteristic which isn't extremely marketable (not that that has ever been much of a problem with Midnite) (I'm of them way of thinking that when you have so many albums that you begin to care less about the commercial successes, or lack thereof, of a single one of them) and it also seemed to lack that one attention dominating tune, but have you ever actually listened to "Anthology"? I mean really listened to this album. If you have then you may have even already arrived at the conclusion that it is, in fact, even stronger than its more well known predecessor (why is 'popularer' not a word???). And while I don't know that I'd go that far just yet, as a whole, the "Anthology" album was AT LEAST on par with "What Makes A King?" and they both, to my most uneducated of opinions, rank highly in terms of recent Midnite albums. For what it may have (did) lacked in the department of immediately gripping and scintillating material, "Anthology" made up for in DEPTH and challenging (even for a Midnite album) material. By its end, particularly lyrically, the album was a bonafide master class, like so much of the Benjamins work has become. Let's examine!
Despite its title, "Anthology" was a record with only new/unheard tunes. Such a situation, on the other hand, does bring up the notion that, after… forty-eight albums [I THINK], perhaps it is time that someone put together the definitive 'best of' set for Midnite - something you would think would have already been done by this point. Until then, we go back and look at their fine 2011 release, "Anthology", for Afrikan Roots Lab which began with one of its undeniably biggest moments, 'Steadfast'. It wasn't always the case, but I REALLY like this tune and, if it ever received the chance (and maybe it did in some respects), I think it could help a lot of people. The piece, as its title would suggest, is focused on people maintaining themselves and being devoted and determined through trying times. If you listen to the vibes of this song, it's very relaxed and almost melancholy (truly a spectacular word) (biggup MELANCHOLY) in spots, but when you centre on what is being said, it glows in ways it doesn't on a cursory spin. Next is a somewhat surprising selection in 'One Time'. The shift in sound between track #1 and track #2 is almost shocking and, on top of that, 'One Time' isn't the type of song that you'll hear very much from Midnite. It's bouncy and fun and immediately accessible - one of a kind on this album. But its presence does also a bit of colour and diversity to an album which wasn't and should be known for much of either. Wrapping up the opening salvo of tunes across this "Anthology" is another of its highlights, the MASSIVE 'Syllable'. Now this gets back to the point of this review. Four years ago, maybe even three, I would not have been able to appreciate this song in particular, but these days, I am fully able to see it and hear it as the brilliant chunk of music that it surely is.
"The ancients left monuments of precision unapproachable to your scientific giant
The biggest heaven they walk like androids in the footprint of height
The higher liquid stain upon the tree
If it was crystallized, dem no see
YOU MUST ACKNOWLEDGE HIGHER POWER, INSTRUMENTS AND CONCEPTS AND EXECUTION
The evidence yah now - that there is substance to the world ancient mythology
The missing parts of parallel, they gather for expansion is combustion
DEM COME FI BOOM DOWN, CUT UP, EXPLODE, SUPER COLLIDE, CRASH EVERYTHING JUST TO SEE WHAT DEM BE
What have we here: Denial of reality
WHEN MAN IS DONE SO COMPLEX ALREADY
They have invented more in a few months than the whole twentieth century
The room and the panel light look like reductionist math in plain visibility
Some of the most excellent, desperate over-achievers feel it -
And interior, inferior inadequacy
THEIR OUTER AND THEIR INNER IS NOW NOT MATCHING YOU SEE
A deep, unsettled, anger about how creation seem not fair to be
Peace-prizing HIS name with the dynamite to blow up quarry
Was it really a noble endeavour?
Laughing inna mi herb sensi?
Who the team of research endeavour to agree to be?
And in HIS laws meditate, day and night, if your creation capacity
… I mean… it's just… no one else can do that! No one else can turn that into what it ultimately becomes in the hands of Vaughn Benjamin and this FANTASTIC song.
Though, as I said, "Anthology", ostensibly, isn't as flashy as the "What Makes A King?" release, it certainly does have it is moments which kind of jump out the listener. Ostensibly, none are ever more glaring as 'He Say, She Say'. This song is a "Midnite" song which doesn't actually feature Vaughn Benjamin on lead vocals and, instead, it is Ron who sings it. Take this in the direction of 'One Time' and you have something even more unexpected and fascinating. The song is a good one and, obviously, a bit more straight-forward that what you hear on most of the album. A very nice changeup. There is also the nearly perplexing 'For The Journey', which is just Vaughn Benjamin and a piano! There is nothing else there! With Benjamin not exactly being a master of melody (he is a magician of the spoken word, however), it is a very skeletal offering to say the least, but again, if you dig into it, while I don't think that the riddim may've had the intended effect, the lyrics absolutely do. There is also the BEAUTIFUL 'Good Thing Happen', with its unique sound, which is a track which can grip you immediately and is definitely amongst the most sonically pleasing efforts that "Anthology" has to offer. And the same can definitely be said about the album's closer 'Judge The Pride'.
"Every city, state, county -
Every intellectual institution -
Is only a set of interactions
Is only a body of relations
Human relations -
So each one is a subset, you see
Of human family
There's been enough examples, you see -
Of scientific envy
INVENTED EVERYTHING AND CAN'T HARNESS THEIR EMOTION
Building bigger on a bigger on a falsified foundation
Their self view world view was the root of their intentions:
Snobbish, elitist aspirations
Dismiss creation's hard evidence"
Somewhat similar to the 'Syllable' tune, but with just a bit more in the way of hypnotic sound (this thing just BEAMS in its latter stages), 'Judge The Pride' rather easily heads near the head of the pack of tunes on "Anthology".
And what could be more flashy and glittery than just BIG tunes??? "Anthology" also has a whole heap of those to offer. Check its title track which is another of those tunes which probably would not have meant much to me just a short time ago. As always, you're really looking forward to a song like this, to see its direction and what I take from it is that it is (obviously) a social commentary. What does make it unique though is that quintessential level of detail Benjamin gives to it - eventually steering it clear of a social connotation and then making it a spiritual song. So, what you have is this song with this high grade of duality which is full-on brilliant, that I think has been lost to those who either never heard it or did not pay it a great mind if they did. There's also the very nice 'Vengeance & Tears', with that amazing track carrying it, and then the very large 'Anarchy'. The former, aside from the riddim (and I can't even stress enough how gorgeous that thing is), is a nice song about experience the trials and tribulations of daily life and going through them in a way which is gratifying to His Imperial Majesty, first and foremost. As is his norm, of course Vaughn doesn't take that road in a direct way, but that is also apart of the allure to this tune, at least for me. As for 'Anarchy' - TEARS! There're probably two songs (and only two) on this album which I enjoy more, by the slimmest of margins, because this piece has developed on me GREATLY over the past couple of years and, again, I cannot say it would have been the case a few years ago. 'When She Loves' isn't one of those two songs which I rate higher than 'Anarchy', but it is another big tune from "Anthology", which gives due credit to the wonderful women of the world. I should also mention the nice vibes around the tune which, if you aren't careful, will swallow you up - but you probably will not mind too much. And 'All We Have' is another of those spiritually organized social commentary which is not to be overlooked (subtly nice riddim there as well, which gets an opportunity to shine throughout). Finally is what is, in my opinion, the single two strongest compositions on the whole of the album. The first of them, 'Jah Is The Ruler', is my favourite song on this album. It is MAMMOTH!
"Still must acknowledge HIM King
HE's in the structure of the very smallest things
Jah is the ruler in your weather
The synchronicity in your triumphs
The coincidentals in your state - as everything comes together - for good
HE is - sing
The contraction and the expansion
If it was harmonious in root state
And feelings get away, long escaped
The universe has a way to equalize a place
Jah is still the ruler in your weather
The synchronicity in your triumph
Coincidentals in your state
How everything comes together - for good
Tetragrammaton Rastafari no slander
The most solid equilibrium state
Selassie I Rastafari utter down
This is the ability of physics and quantum -
TURNED OUT TO BE ETHIOPIAN ROYAL SYMBOLS
The vector sways necessary into graphs
Six broken sticks: incient hexagonal"
Ultimately, the song is a giant of a praising piece which may even overdue it in terms of providing details and substance, but it is the way of Vaughn Benjamin to provide such things and, in this case, it works to perfection. And then there is the similarly proportioned and similarly helmed 'Rastafari Is King'. Although fully self-explanatory, this track is a journey of a song. It is also one which is lyrically very dynamic in terms of its delivery and even with a slight melody. So it's entertaining and dramatic and just a powerful addition to an album which is full of them!
|Ron & Vaughn Benjamin|
Overall, again, while many may've overlooked this album or gone around it for others, "Anthology" was a big release for me, personally. And it was one which kind of required even more work than it typically does, at least for me, to really dig into a Midnite album. It was challenging in so many ways, so while it may not have been one of their more dynamic sets initially, I think that you can make a case for it being more energetic than it was giving credit for being by almost everyone and - also just MUCH BETTER as well. As I continue along this voyage to comprehension of the magnificence of Midnite, "Anthology" was a large stop and I'm damn glad that when I first left it, I always kept a mind to come back. If you haven't taken another listen, or a first one, maybe it's that time. Well done.
Afrikan Roots Lab