Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Vault Reviews: "Treasure" by Midnite

Distinguishing. When you make 'message music' and particularly a style such as Roots Reggae music, I think that you kind of measure something such as success differently than most artists from other genres tend to. On one side, it is your profession and one which you devote a great deal of your time to, in doing and in preparing to do, so you want to sell as many records as possible, you want to do as many tours as you can and you want as many people to show up to your shows as you can get, because that's how you make your living. On the other hand, if you are genuine to your craft, you also want your music to be heard by as many people as possible - you want your message to spread as wide and as far as it possibly can. Certainly there is a place where these two different types of accomplishments can meet and intertwine with one another and help each other as well. And a good example of someone who has well experienced both  would definitely be Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite. In their specific case, while commercial successes remain what they remain, as I've said in the past, one could very well make the case that, at least from the modern era, absolutely no one in Reggae music has developed as passionate of a fan base as Midnite. Though certainly the genre features stars who have far more supporters and are far more popular, no one stands out as having as loyal of a group as does Midnite, so whatever 'they're' doing in terms of spreading the word has been VERY successful and productive. Because they've released so many albums, one would think that they've also sold quite a bit as well (and you don't even have to assume that, you can be sure of it) and this is the case despite the fact that Midnite albums, routinely, aren't amongst the most well promoted -- some aren't promoted at all actually -- and I think that it has something to do with a label just kind of assuming that it will sell regardless of what they do. However, as we've seen in the past, despite not being a favourite amongst the Reggae media, Midnite can really do exceptional things when a record label actually tries to put some type of promotional tool behind them. 

When it comes to Midnite albums, of course, the best at routinely endorsing their work is and has really always been I Grade Records. Most recently we saw just how popular their 2011 set, "Kings Bell" would become and how it virtually forced people like me to discuss it (although in my case such a thing isn't very difficult, obviously) (and it wouldn't have been hard in that case, especially) (with an eleven foot, six-hundred pound tiger on the album) (I digress) and that was easily one of their best known albums ever. Not too long before that, however, after already releasing somewhere in the vicinity of around forty albums, VP Records FINALLY took an interest in the work Midnite was doing. Prior to that, save for very few moments, one of which was the MASSIVE explosion of Pressure Busspipe's dominant 'Love & Affection' tune from a few years earlier, which had made its rounds on a few VP compilations, VP Records had paid very little attention to Reggae music from out of the Virgin Islands. 

That all changed when they had a hand in doing the work for the "Treasure" album 2011. The album, reportedly, was the very first release on the VPAL distribution arm of VP Records. Today, given just how prolific VPAL is, that's a fairly large distinction and one which wasn't the final link (the most recent Midnite album, right now, "Be Strong", is a product of it as well) between the two. Speaking of links, while "Treasure" was the first between Midnite and VP Records, it was the fifth between Benjamin and its creator, Rastar Records, which has, by far, been his most active of musical stops over the past half-decade or so. Since then, there have been three more albums and I'd probably be pretty shocked if 2013 came to its end without producing at least one more. Of them all "Treasure" is, by far, the most well known. If I recall correctly, not only did it receive a nice push by VP, but the label also seemed very happy to have Midnite within their ranks as well. A song from this album would appear on the "Biggest Reggae One-Drop Anthems" album for 2011 (which was absent in 2012 and which they should really resurrect this year, even if it is just on one disc) and it was even the very first song on that album. They also did singles, if I recall correctly, and if you look into albums from around the same time such as "Momentum", "Ark A Law", "Anthology" and even "What Makes A King?", which was and remains a popular album, almost all of them generated less of a buzz than did "Treasure", despite the final two being legitimate Midnite albums, a quality which has, unsurprisingly, proven to be a very one attractive to their fans. Furthermore, even if you go back further and ahead as well, you won't find too many Midnite albums which are as well known amongst more casual fans than was "Treasure" and, as I always say, say what you will about VP Records, but a BAD promotion job from them tends to be considerably better than a GOOD one from almost everyone else (excluded in that would be I Grade Records - I might even go as far to say that "Kings Bell" was even more popular than "Treasure" was in their times, respectively) in the genre. They really know what they're doing there and it was very interesting to see them active over a Midnite album with the two having run virtually parallel to one another for so long and FINALLY crossing over. Interestingly, however, while "Treasure" was definitely popular, it wasn't as highly regarded for its quality as one might think and I've personally always held it as a decent album, but not even as good some of the other Midnite/Rastar pieces. While I do still think that the union has produced better work, as is typically the case in our current running look back at the work of Midnite, "Treasure" was better than I was giving it credit for being. Let's  talk about it. 
Rastar Records
Fittingly, as far as Midnite albums go, "Treasure" was one which was rather accessible to my ear. 'They' have certain idiosyncrasies which will likely always prevent them from falling too far inside the 'mainstream' (like occasionally completely ignoring a riddim), but this album was melodic and very pleasant to listen to on their own scale. Speaking of "pleasant" on the ears, the very first two selections on "Treasure" are outstanding examples of precisely what I mean, 'Treasure' and 'Negus Is Peace'. The title track from this album is SPECIAL and has become a definitive highlight from the record named after it. 

"What kinda meditation babylon and dem a unda?
Seem as if you haffi convince dem fi love demself Jah
Wah dem ah talk bout 'Sufferah' inna di earth a weh you live yah 
Earth inhabitant and dem is getting nervous hand
Microwave and fiber-optic colourless and without order
Before dem go put di blue coloured water pon marijuana"

This is a HUGE social commentary with a spiritual heart, which you can literally say about hundreds of Benjamin's songs, but still this one manages to stand out amongst the pack. For its part, 'Negus Is Peace' "Is Beautiful" - and is a major praising tune. What I most like about this one is how wonderfully it works with the nature of it all. This is a peaceful and very non-stressed composition and Benjamin uses it to go on to draw connections between PEACE as an experience and other things such as intelligence and joy. Though a lasting moment from this album which has done well, I do think that is an aspect of it which has been somewhat lost on listeners. Next is another very beautiful offering in 'Yield Turn Out'. This is just… call it quintessential work of Vaughn Benjamin. It is a fully brilliant metaphor-latent educational moment which presents some blindingly beautiful moments ["ONLY THING DEM CREATE IS A CLINGING MAGNET OF NEGATIVITY"] [WHAT!] [BOOM!]. And rounding out the first third of "Treasure" are the excellent 'Rastafari Now' and 'Germawi'. While the latter well does contain attractive moments and features (particularly the Jazzy saxophone which you hear 'roaming' throughout - credited to Edmund Fieulleteau), the former is a big favourite of mine as it finds Benjamin once again giving a scintillatingly clever praise to His Majesty. Again, I really do enjoy the simple nature of this song and how it never really gets too aggressive and fiery which isn't always a good thing, but works to a near perfection in this case. And to add to 'Germawi' (because I just had a large lock of the brain and probably listened to that song ten times consecutively - it is EXCELLENT also). 

The aforementioned tune from "Treasure" which began the "Biggest Reggae One-Drop Anthems 2011" album, 'How To Answa' is also a big winner here. This acoustic piece took a bit of time to grow on me and at this moment I'm sort of still working on it. I don't know what would have made them choose this song as, though a fine tune, it isn't the most sonically pleasing effort here, but perhaps the thought was in the way of serving up some more typical type of sound to see if it resonating with audiences and it did. The song is still a popular one. If I recall correctly, 'Know The Ropes' was a single from "Treasure" and this choice, on the other hand, is an obvious one. This was a gorgeous piece as was the drum-heavy album-closer 'Wise Mind', with which you might be familiar as well. That song… TEARS! You might also know the solid 'Humble Man' which utilizes an old riddim from Black Uhuru, for 'Conviction or A Fine' (which is a trait of several Midnite songs for Rastar as, I think, one of the label heads is family of a member of the legendary group). Still, when it comes to the highest heights this album has to offer, the TREASURE of "Treasure" - that song is a more obvious one. If you make five albums with someone (and then do three more), the least that you could do is to name about them and that is exactly what happened with the MASSIVE 'Rastar'

"The concept of world free-market of ideas -
They're retaking it
The magnet of money makes it feel impossible to regulate it
They study shoulder-to-shoulder with the cream of the affluent
The intellectual knowledge in your head, they said, is worth more than modest salary and rent
They said
To bribery and to coerce the brilliant 
Looking for their Einstein - among the dissidence
The one man that can swing the balance of everything
And give the roulette wheel a spin that give one nation the unfair advantage
Well life is a precious of unusual mystique
When it was the cures of medicinal you seek
Mutating nature of micro-germ culture -
Is information, not aggression you need
Better standard of living to the actuality 
They peep in your hand, through your psychology 
And reacting either negative or positively 

I Rasta!
I Rasta!
I Rasta!

With particle physics in the heat in the scrutiny -
Of fearfulness of biotech, a plasma stem cell regenerated worse than the rest

DAMN! I literally want to tell you to not waste your time listening to the rest of the album - just to see. If you listen to 'Rastar' and you do not like it, this is not the album for you and neither are any of the other forty+ with the name "Midnite" on them. The tune which immediately follows that large moment, 'Gather Them In' is another stellar song, this one dealing with the unifying characteristics of Rastafari. This song is one where you need to really focus on what is being said because, in inimitable Vaughn Benjamin fashion, he has this way of tying things together so perfectly to the point where he goes on to the make the case that people are being "gathered in" without actually even realizing it! DEFINITELY get into the linguistics of that tune I also love how the riddim continues on well after the final vocals have been uttered on the track. And of the outstanding tunes on "Treasure", while I cannot say that 'Patience' is a favourite of mine, 'Youth Ope Ya' is quite good (especially the riddim) and  the other pair is BIG! Check the best of them all, the downright dominant 'Scientist Black'

"Send the scientist Black
Straight Black to the start human will, desire and emotion
These are the projected target-practice of human relation
These are the avenues and the ocean of dissemination 
Within the genetic continental drift of the nation
Must feed the light realignment and contemplation
For blessing despite the ecological mess you made upon Iration

Fear of wealth-redistribution and a climb-down total 
Glutton and insults and demoralization
Not to mention worse out inna di public dominion
Fear of decline and fears of demotion
Freed captives with their dignity and spoke reconciliation
Just like the basic model, human family Trinitarian"

Professor Benjamin opens his books and gives a history lesson which is not to be missed by anyone! The other tune, 'Got Heat' is this dramatic presentation of a lovely song which does take a minute to really get into, but is well worth the 'getting' to my opinion.  
Overall, though I do stand by my line of thinking that "Treasure" was a pretty good album, but the Midnite/Rasta Records union has produced better (like "Children of Jah"), perhaps this one was a very good project to receive the type of push that it subsequently has. It is very open and that is the case even lyrically. Sometimes really digging into what Vaughn Benjamin means on a song can be difficult and not something that I would think is much fun for newer listeners (and probably even some of the older ones also) and that isn't the predominant method of writing for this album. I would wonder if that was the intent, to make a more open album which was likely to be received by a wider group of people or if it just happened like that, but regardless of the inspiration (and I'm almost certain that Benjamin, himself, would say that it was HIS intent) what does occur with "Treasure" is that you do not have to dig for a very long time to 'find it'. And as someone who has dug and is still digging up more than a few buried artifacts of Midnite, I enjoyed it (though digging is something I enjoy as well). So, what we had here was an album which still stands out in the catalog of Midnite as being one of the most popular stops within and one which became a place where the commercially popular met the actually popular. Midnite has done better albums, but if you haven't dug this one up recently - it's probably better than you recall. 

Rated: 4.15/5
Rastar Records
CD + Digital

Review #456

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