Friday, June 14, 2013

'Tuned In': A review of "Frequency" by Jahcoustix

Collision. As daunting and downright impossible as it surely is, one of my 'goals' as a fan of music is to pay attention and listen to every single even remotely talented artist that I might be interested in. If you have a nice sound and you have actual skills then I am either already a fan of yours or I am on my way and will be with you shortly. Although, like I said, it is impossible to keep up with everyone, keeping up with someone kind of steers you in the proper direction and, given the landscape of modern Reggae music, where if you do have real talent -- you'll eventually find your way to the relatively same group of people, in one way or another --  being a fan of someone, in particular, can surely allow you to 'inherit' appreciation of many others. For example, I'm immediately reminded of one of our favourite labels, Oneness Records from out of Germany and how, in the most unique set of circumstances in following their music (without even noticing it at times) I've gone from listening to someone like Naptali (biggup Naptali), then to becoming probably the biggest fan of Sara Lugo's not named Lugo, to continuing to follow the label and being opened up to the wonderful music of a whole heap of different names, perhaps most interestingly, Ras Muhammad from out of Indonesia. Furthermore, you can't even place a cap on it there because I have no idea who I might tune into because I heard them on some Oneness track and where that might lead me to or lead me back to and it is all incredibly fascinating and one of the most remarkable things about consistently following music. Oneness is actually a good reference point for today (as is Sara Lugo), because we now take a look at someone who has seemingly been bubbling around my typical listening routine and has now manifested himself full-on via a fine brand new album, the colourful and superbly named Jahcoustix. The artist, also from out of Germany originally, has popped up at quite a few different points in things that I listen to and though his name was always one which was somewhat familiar (I just do not remember the first time I heard his name), I'd never really gotten around to fully taking in his music. So of course if you want to remedy that, what do you do? You do an album.  
And you put it out on Oneness Records! Well… okay that would have been great, but that's not what he did. Though Jahcoustix does appear on a pair of the label's earlier tracks, the Oneness and the General Key ('Great Spirit', big tune), for the new album, Jahcoustix links with another excellent choice in mighty Austrian imprint, Irie Vibrations. IV has their own very impressive line of releases and that is particularly the case when it comes to doing albums. In recent years, the label has given the world top notch material from the likes of Luciano, Konshens & Delus, Anthony B and others and are amongst the labels who I regularly look for the work of, because, especially these days, they rank amongst the most proven of commodities in Reggae music today in my opinion. And this is who helps to usher me into listening to a Jahcoustix album - FINALLY. Thank you!
"Crossroads" [2010]
So we check in and dial in to the proper "Frequency". While I don't know much about Jahcoustix, to my surely incorrect count, the new album becomes his fifth under his name and his sixth altogether following, most recently, 2010's "Crossroads", an album which, SHOCKINGLY I never heard, despite the fact that I am sure that I have seen that cover well over a trillion times. Instead of listening directly, as I said, I've taken a more indirect course here. He actually did appear on a big tune by the name of 'Maybe', alongside Sara Lugo, one her amazing debut set, "What About Love" (which I do not have to tell you about because you've bought a copy of that album every time I told you to and now have nine-hundred copies of it) from 2011 and, just last year, he was heard on the album of someone else who I had made a point to eventually find my way to listening to, Uwe Banton, on his own impressive record, "Mental War". So, it appears that everything has quietly been lining up for me to listen to "Frequency" and even prior to the album's release, I was very happy to see it generating a very large amount of hype. Some of that has to go the work of Irie Vibrations, they may not get a proper credit for it, but if you really think about it, they do an exceptional job when it comes to promotion (and it does help that they work with a lot of big names). But Jahcoustix is also a very big name and while I didn't spin his last album, as I alluded to, it was almost inescapable as far as being visible and when you have something like that, multiple times, for the same artist, he/she is a big part of reaction from the masses as well. 'New Jahcoustix album' is a big deal to many fans and, probably the next time I hear it, it will be for me as well. Until then, however, I have to admit that I was damn interested in hearing this album not only because of the fact that it is, apparently, a much bigger album, on paper, than I would have given it credit for being before I researched it, but also want the full display. Although I certainly haven't been his biggest of fans throughout the years, the pieces that I do recall hearing from Jahcoustix has always been impressive to some degree and hearing him present that on an album which, at least in my opinion, has NO chance at being anything but at least solid seems like perfect timing to come along and become a supporter. So does he manage to live up the hype and make a new fan in the process? He does, but maybe in an unexpected way. Let's talk about it.

Besides just having a cool name for a Reggae musician, Jahcoustix's name is also quite applicable for his style. He is VERY straight-forward and has the type of voice which may not be so immediately striking, but is nearly ideal for the genre. To that end, he definitely has a kind of a 'streamlined' and thus, perhaps, an ACOUSTIC type of a style and delivery which works very well for him. And then there's the matter of the way he writes! I don't know if I've spent way too much time breaking down the mystical words of Vaughn Benjamin and have become an over-over-thinker, but Jahcoustix, in a different way, has a very exigent way of writing which, subtly keeps the listener on his or her proverbial toes because he just… doesn't seem to say what you would expect him to and it isn't that he jumps so far off the likely trail, because he doesn't and he often arrives at the conclusion you expect him to, but he almost ALWAYS takes a slightly different route. Personally, I like stuff like that because it virtually forces more thought and offers, potentially, more discussable moments. Such as? His new album, "Frequency", which gets started with its title track, is brimming with them. First of all, the sound on this tune, and on the lion's share of the songs on the album, is fantastic. This is CANDY to my ears and I'm sure you'll feel the same. As far as the path taken by the tune, what I took from this song is that it is one about self awareness. You listen to this one (and I've probably heard it now well over twenty times) and it kind of goes in a few different courses, but the one which seems to unify them all, at least to me (and I'm no genius), is that Jahcoustix is trying to say that you have to be aware of yourself and be prepared for what is to come. It is a very interesting selection, in any case. In next is the somewhat more self-explanatory 'Calling For Rights'. This observation on the state of the times may be destined to go somewhat overlooked, because it doesn't seem to stand out much on the album, however, just in respect to quality - it may be one of the stronger efforts on the whole of the record. And wrapping up the first group of songs on "Frequency" is a piece which certainly should be one of the highlights here and one which has a great potential of 'star quality', the nearly mammoth 'Soul Collide'. This selection is kind of complicated, but at its core it is a look at the route of society from a spiritual perspective (and DO NOT ignore that track which BLOSSOMS throughout the song).  

Easily one of the most fascinating facets of "Frequency" is what it does within the four songs here which're combinations. Irie Vibrations and Jahcoustix taps some truly impressive talents with which to record and the results are expectedly huge. On paper, the least known of the featuring artists would be Dub Inc from out of France, who chime in on the multicultural and BEAUTIFUL 'Better Days'. This song contains a lyric, as its punchline, which I had to think about considerably:

"Don't wait 'til tomorrow -
Better days will come
Don't live in yesterday"

Jahcoustix seems to be saying to appreciate and live in the moment, but at the same time he's also saying that better times are ahead. It is a sterling example of what I mean when I say that never quite seems to say what you expect and, because this song arrives relatively late on the album [track #11/14], I had gotten used to it by then, but it still caught my attention. Ultimately, what I think he is saying is that ‘living in the moment' will affect what is to come and that dwelling on what happen in the past is, at best, counterproductive… to sanity (I may have added that last part in myself) (I digress). As for the names you're sure to be familiar with joining Jahcoustix on "Frequency”, the first of them is the legendary Apple Gabriel from Israel Vibration on the divinely old school vibed 'Controller'. This piece is unique because what it is saying is if the world leaders are to watch, or control, the rest of us, then who, exactly, is keeping an eye on them? Gabriel suggests a MOST sinister source, given their actions, on this tune which is another which is subtly sonically magical. The equally esteemed Horace Andy also makes a big appearance on 'Strong Man'. Andy being on "Frequency" is very interesting because I kind of think that Jahcoustix's delivery is kind of a chanting version of what Horace Andy has been doing for years and years and I thought that before I knew he was on this album (they both kind of have that kind of 'skinny' sound to their vocals at times) and they also link for a big tune. And the other combination is sure to attraction a whole heap of attention as the scalding Kabaka Pyramid and Raphael team up with Jahcoustix for the MASSIVE anti-violence piece, 'Don't Shoot'

"Whose gonna save us all -
When dem ah try fi jail us all?
Di system don't teach you wrong from what is right yeah
Ourselves wi fight against -
When evil wi fi rise against
Selassie give I di orders to unite 
So what do you gain when you shoot yah brother down?
And who do you blame when yuh judgment ah come?
There is no escape
Yuh put yah soul at stake and there is no one to save you
Pain and destruction, dem thing no really phase you
You're not a soldier, you're not fight for no cause
The question is to what you can rely on for the di task
But guns are not the answer 

Who's gonna save your soul tonight?
Mama see the children cry!
Everything's gonna change
Who's gonna save you?
What to do when there is no way out
Mama haffi shoot the gun
Mama's gonna shoot the gun, before the soldiers come

Blame it pon di system
Blame it pon di government 
Dem should protect and listen 
And work for the betterment
But dem a bunch of thieves
Dem haffi fall like leaves inna winter
Haffi remove dem like a splinter
SOS! Our people suffering from too much stress
What should be a good life - it all a big mess
Total sickness!

You see another Mama cry!
Her son get shot in di road and died!
She nuh know the reason why! 
She could not even say goodbye!"

BOOM! The tune is a personal favourite of mine from this album and it is the type of immediately pleasing track which should definitely bring a lot of eyes and even more ears to this “Frequency". 

Now, with all of that being said, my top favourite moments on the album come with Jahcoustix going solo and, specifically, it is three songs which rise above the rest in my opinion. The first of them - where Love created Tarrus Riley (on one of the greatest songs of all time), Jahcoustix wants us to know that 'Love Save I' on an entirely STUNNING offering. This song, when it first comes through, you have a really good feeling, I think that I smiled just from the beginning because I knew it was going to be a good one and it doesn't disappoint. Here we find the artist on what is, sort of but not in the stereotypical application of the phrase, a 'love song'. Although there is a focal point in a person, the song is really just about LOVE, more specifically and how it can do amazing things for people - including saving a life and it is a very relatable tune for a person like me (more on that in second). I also LOVE the very clever 'Rocks' which, to my ears, is concerning the 'baggage', in emotional and people form, that we accumulate in living everyday life (which are referred to as "ROCKS") and how important it is to cut loose from these things (or as many of them as we possibly can) and "find my own way". This one requires a bit more listening, but when I finally figured it out (or thought I did), it opened up tremendously and I hope that the masses give it a genuine opportunity because although it may not be the type of track which DEMANDS that you pay it attention, it is tremendous! Speaking of tremendous songs on this album, my choice (and maybe only my choice) (who cares) as the single best song "Frequency" is song which, perhaps unfortunately, I relate to so, so much, 'Fail Hard'. As someone who has lived such a flawed life and made SO many mistakes in it, songs like this will always do special for me, where the artist says to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again (biggup Peter Tosh). This one, in particular, has a very serene and calming vibes to it and it also, as a very nice touch, makes the powerful next suggestion of seeking inspiration in music to help you go through whatever it is that you're experiencing. A MASSIVE song. 

"Take a look right to your left
Take a look left to your right
You might see yourself alone
Longtime friends are out of sight"

And rounding out the album are more strong pieces as well. To my opinion, the biggest of the remaining lot is the album's official closer, 'Echo', which is in a motion of continuing to grow on me, so it may rise even further. Also check the different 'Screw Is Loose' - another nice composition speaking on self-awareness and self-sufficiency. 'Blaze It Out' (which my Wife apparently enjoys so much) and 'Kings Of Democracy' also both make good impressions, especially the latter. These songs all definitely add to the 'body' of the album and make it even stronger and also they do a great job in emphasizing its best traits, one of which, as I said (I think I did), is its general sound. This album sounds great! You can differ in opinion of the songs, but the actual sonic appeal of the entire album, in my opinion, is beyond debate. It's top notch and features great production and players of instruments as well.
The digital version of the album also contains a trio of bonus tracks, one of which is a very appropriate dubbed out version of 'Controller' and then there're two full songs, 'Nothing A Change' and 'Faith Keeper'. Placed into context with the rest of the material on the album, 'Nothing A Change' is one of its best and it fits into the scheme of the best songs on the album as well, it sounds perfectly there as this tune which is kind of this emotional and inspirational pickup. 'Faith Keeper' is also very good with another HEALTHY splash of a delightfully old school sound - one of which Horace Andy would be proud from how its sung.  
Overall, my first big and 'formal' impressions of Jahcoustix is a good one. My main thought (because I'm a nerd) is his very interesting way of putting things together. His way of writing is just so damn fascinating to me and as I listen to more and more of it (now sixteen songs on an album) and dig into it to the degree of writing this review, it does reveal itself more and more, but I'm now incredibly curious to see whether or not this was a deviation for him or if it has always been his style because, within the bits and pieces that I have heard from Jahcoustix throughout the years, I don't remember anything like this (and I usually notice things like that). As for "Frequency", while I'm sure that Jahcoustix has many, many more fans who adore his style and are far more educated than I am, for me personally the albums serves as a delightful and enjoyable introduction to an artist who I'm so glad that I FINALLY got around to listening to and he now has at least one more fan than he did before he made it. Me. 

Rated: 4.15/5
Irie Vibrations
CD + Digital

Review #447

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