Friday, October 25, 2013

The Vault Reviews: "Geoman" by Midnite Branch I

Extending branches. Despite the fact that they, completely, exist well outside of the more 'mainstream' side of Reggae music, I would make the argument that very few names in the genre carry as much weight as that of Midnite's. Along with being the inherent reference point when speaking of an entire subgenre [I.e. 'Reggae music from out of the Virgin Islands such as… Midnite'], a role which they may never shed, the 'band' also comes up in a variety of different ways (such as when speaking of Reggae bands, in general). This is, in my opinion, largely due to their prevailing popularity, but also because of their polarization. As we've found out, Reggae fans who are really educated but are not necessarily the biggest fans of Midnite still well know who they are and, at least in some aspect, have a certain respect for the name (even if that respect only goes as far as to identify something they do not think they will enjoy). Because of this, and I haven't even gotten into their actual fans whose passion probably has no equal in Reggae music today, it makes it even more odd that the actual name, MIDNITE, is one which has well changed through the years. In the most immediate sense, of course, when you see the name Midnite it serves as to show some type of participation from group frontman, Vaughn Benjamin. A song which has the phrase, "featuring Midnite", added to its title is one which almost always has added vocals from Benjamin. A "Midnite album" is simply one on which he sings and now, looking back, though I don't feel like counting (AT ALL), in Midnite's forty-eight or so releases, maybe more than thirty of them have been albums which have featured Vaughn Benjamin for a variety of different producers. And when you follow that same course even further, these days we've attached conditioners such as 'real', 'actual' and 'legitimate' to the phrase "Midnite album" to denote one which features the current and existing incarnation of the band. You could also take the next step in saying that "actual Midnite album" means an album on which Vaughn Benjamin sings and his brother, Ron Benjamin, produces. That has been the way it has been for quite awhile now and, obviously, it has neither bothered or confused fans, nor has it taken away from 'their' popularity. In fact it may've even helped to push the name even further given Vaughn Benjamin's frenzied release schedule. However, if you look very closely through Midnite's vault, you will stumble upon a version of the name which, at least at one time, did take things in a more streamlined direction and made it very well known. 

Midnite Branch I. Because, as I said, anything coming down now involving the musical presence of Vaughn Benjamin is enough to earn the tag 'Midnite', I would be absolutely shocked if we ever saw another one but, once upon a time, there was a streamlined version of Midnite which was called Midnite Branch I. Branch I wasn't an alter-ego in the same vein of Wayne Wonder's Supriz or Lefside's once wildly successful Dr. Evil, instead what it was, was Vaughn Benjamin on the vocals with older members of the band, Dion Hopkins and Phillip Merchant as the musicians, respectively. Branch I, of course, was in the business of making albums, as Midnite has always been in its various forms, and in their time they created a quartet of albums in just a couple of years. Perhaps the most popular of these albums is "Cipheraw" (with its amazing cover), which was also the first in 2002. But there was also the Ras Batch produced "He Is Jah" and the difficult "Project III" (which I'm still working on). These albums arrived through a variety of different channels, with Natural Vibes handling "Project III" and Rastafaria Records the other two. The fourth album (which was the third release, I believe) would also come via a very familiar source of Midnite albums of all kinds, the wonderful people at I Grade Records.
also from Midnite Branch I
Though Midnite would have seven others, "Geoman" was the first and only collaboration of I Grade Records and Midnite Branch I. The album was released in 2003, which was the very same year that IGR also did the "Vijan" record. That's very interesting as well because it fully demonstrates just how popular Midnite had already become a decade ago, that such a label, already distinguished at the time on their own, was willing to go so far in such a short amount of time. And though "Geoman" was definitely not the most popular of the lot of Midnite/IGR albums, it has maintained a relatively strong presence in the ten years from its release. Surely that has to do with Branch I tag (which is amplified when you have nearly fifty albums and only four of this kind (and only one of this kind for this label)), but "Geoman" also acquired a reputation for its sound. I, basically, disagree with that (more on that in a second), but I think that out of all of the things which can keep an album like this alive, the actual music is the most wonderful. For comparison, out of all of the Branch I albums, "Project III" is almost surely the least well known of the lot and, as I alluded to, the music on that album is not something which comes easy, even for Midnite's music and it has gone on to become an album strictly appreciated by the band's most fervent of supporters. "Geoman" did not (AT ALL) have similar issues (it also had a great album cover) and for an album of its kind, I really do think that it has gone onto a solid existence in the memories of fans. But maybe you don't remember it at all because you never heard it. Here're a few reasons why it remains a very nice addition to anyone's collection. 

Okay, the reputation "Geoman" has gotten throughout the years is one which regards it as being somewhat of a changeup. The music is 'odd' or 'different' and things like that. Although it does have such moments, I didn't listen to it like that and this is an album which I relatively recently just started deeply listen to (maybe from early last year). Yet, while I do not hold the popular opinion here, "Geoman" was still a very strong album. If you need an example of that, do check the album's gorgeous opener, 'Crown Aim'. The riddim on this tune is, easily, one of the finest on the whole of the album and it isn't wasted. 'Crown Aim' is work but it is good work. What I ultimately take away from it is that Vaughn Benjamin is presenting Rasta as kind of an elixir of the ills of life. He also shows it, DIRECTLY, as the simple joys of life as well, in the tangible sense as well. It is a very interesting song and one which serves as a big way to begin things. Next would be a piece, in 'M Street', which kind of aids in the notion of the sound of the album being something so unusual. The easy thing here is the track. It is somewhat Jazzy piece which is often louder than the vocals… but it works. The song is part praising song/part social commentary and it finds Benjamin at least attempting to kind of match the track. That doesn't make for the best song on the album, but it does have value which emerges more and more as you hear it, so keep trying and just don't walk away from it after the first listen - leaving it as 'weird song', perpetually - that'll be your mistake. Benjamin and company then educate all on the 'Powaz ov Weed'

Perfect crystals David star small
Plant a honey cluster, so why the comb?
News clippings of Black woman inna Rome" 

The song, like its subject, like its creator, is an absolute GIFT and one of the biggest highlights to be found on "Geoman". The triumphant 'All Are U' is an even bigger song and it as one of a few here which, before I came back to this album, I didn’t remember at all. It takes me off into something else but (you know I don't care) it is a direct reason why we do a project like this . When you make so many albums, certainly not all of them are golden, but they all have moments like this which're otherwise lost to you if you do not go back, despite not being very far from you at all and 'All Are U' is fantastic! And speaking of going back, THE biggest song on "Geoman" has become the stirring 'People Iz I'. This is one of those very rare songs from Midnite which, seemingly, exists primarily for the sake of evoking emotions. The one here, in particular, is PRIDE. This one instills a whole heap of it and you know you don't get out of the proverbial door without Benjamin laying a strong piece of ideology as well.

"Hear di trumpet, bush where di Black Man natty
Forward Jah Jah place and they play intensely
Full up all of strategy and discipline-cy
Hard work at something inna diligence-cy
Bound fi si, must get productivity
Sativa, sati mek wi feel irie
Without it, do great amount of disturbance-cy"


There are several, but when you take a look at the tracklist of "Geoman" one well sticks out as far as being unique. 'Jah In Dem' is a tune which featured MBI alongside Dread Ites and Pressure Busspipe and had MANY other things going for it. The smallest of those features was NOT that hypnotic drum which dominates the sound on the tune and made for a devastating vibes. For their parts, respectively, the fiery Dread Ites and a young Pressure (two years ahead of his own debut album at the time) both do exceedingly well in what were big opportunities at the time for their careers. The track which immediately follows 'Jah In Dem', 'Known' is a gem of a song. You would not look at a song like this as being 'dynamic' or 'lively', or anything like such, but it is. That riddim behind it is GORGEOUS and it makes its point, which is one of appreciating and spreading love, in a wonderfully understated and laid-back manner which helps it even more. Also check 'The Valyou' and 'Nachral'. While the latter is another piece which may be held as being somewhat odd (it isn't), the former is nearly as good as anything else you'll hear on "Geoman" in my opinion. And then there's 'Plureal'.

"Spiraling to break dem speed
North cold and south cold
The geology and all relatives inter-dimension that already -
Outta hand, inna fire, in gut
Sun inna di sky and sun inna yuh eye
This is the testing
And claws and mane

This selection comes with a powerful kind of spoken-word delivery which really brings the emotion from out of Vaughn Benjamin. This isn't something which happens very often, so when you do hear it, you well take notice when the typically level-headed Vaughn Benjamin just loses a bit of control in a good way. 

As "Geoman" winds down it saves a few big moments for the end as well. And while you may or may not place any of them near the head of the album in terms of quality, are at least solid. 'Up Together', however, is somewhere much, MUCH, further ahead of that. This song, as the title suggests, is about unity ["living up  together inna vibes"] and all of the great things which bring people together. Aside from that, something else which is attractive here, again, is the delivery. CLEARLY Vaughn Benjamin had fun making this song and it shows in the results. If you thought the drum on ‘Jah In Dem' was intoxicating (you were correct), hear what is done on 'Doan Daly' which is another of my lasting favourites from this album. The wholly differing sounds between 'Doan Daly' and 'Feel', which follows it, is huge. The latter is acoustic-ish and light and open. With that being said, however, both are high class offerings and, very subtly, 'Feel', from a lyrical standpoint, may be one of the best songs on “Geoman". 'Poze Arf' does present a level of beauty in its extraordinary straightforwardness, but it is the journey to comprehension on this song which is its biggest of attractions. I've probably listened to it (RIGHT NOW!) about six times trying to get from it what I think the message is (and, for me at least, that is a good thing. I love trying to figure things out like that) and what I've come up with (temporarily, I'll probably change my mind before I write a conclusion for this review and be entirely too lazy to go back and change it) (currently at 2203 words) is that it is a song about the passage of time and how there is a lack of respect for things old, on one side, and a refusal to acknowledge the changing of the times on the other. In any respect, it is a damn fascinating piece which I will surely continue to sift through. And finally, wrapping up "Geoman" is 'Inight' which isn't nearly as perplexing as its predecessor, but is a better song. Here, we get emotion. We get brilliant lyrics. We get a solid riddim and just a great song altogether. On the most detailed level, this song is one about unity, but I don't even want to go that far here. On a more superficial plane (and 'superficial' isn't always a bad word), I think that 'Inight' is really a track about learning how to treat people better. Benjamin speaks of things such as unit and equality and society, but at the heart is ultimately respect and, again, just not putting someone away and leaving them there and allowing/helping everyone to enjoy what is there to be enjoyed. 

Overall, while I cannot call "Geoman" one of my favourite Midnite-ish albums, it well remains, a decade on, a very strong album. As I said, I don't consider it all to be the kind of weird release that you may have heard about it (and even less so after digging into it here), but it is a unique album. We look at Midnite albums, in general, in a different way and on a much different scale than we do for their peers, for obvious reasons, and on that scale, "Geoman" does have a few eccentricities which may lead a listener in a few different ways, but it isn't such a large step outside of what they typically do (at the time and from the time) to alienate… really any type of fan. Also, as a whole, while it may be one of the more unique Midnite/I Grade Records link, again, if you appreciated and enjoyed much of the other work between the two (you have good taste), you shouldn't have difficulty with this one either. "Geoman" is yet another album which is well worth the trip back through one of the most impressive catalogues in the history of Reggae music and all of its many Branches. 

Rated: 3.85/5
I Grade Records
CD + Digital 

Review #473

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