Friday, November 22, 2013

The Vault Reviews: "Current" by Midnite

Not always. I think that, at least when it comes to the highest level, one of the most interesting aspects of being a fan of music, and anything really, is how you deal with disappointment. Whatever/whoever it is that you are a fan of will eventually, at some point, do something which you do not enjoy and probably do something which you vehemently dislike. However, when it comes to your absolute favourites in something, along with grabbing more of your attention, they also tend to work themselves in your memory to the point where doing a bad thing here and there isn't very likely to run you off as a fan. On the other hand, from someone or something that you do not enjoy very much, when they do a similar thing it only serves to add to your fire of discontent for their work. In music this is applied in a variety of different ways, but on the simplest of terms: Just because a big artist drops a bad tune (or a few them….) (or even an album or two) doesn't mean that you automatically downgrade them. And in Reggae where you have a handful of names who have a truly ridiculous amount of work behind them, the likelihood decreases even further of finding someone whose complete catalog is without flaw to even their most passionate of followers. At least I think that's the case, although when you deal with the works of Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite, you also deal with, rather easily, one of the most ardent of fan-bases the entire genre of Reggae music has ever seen for anyone. Yet, I'm sure that with a catalogue now well within the range of fifty albums (I think the last time I counted, it was now at forty-eight), I'm sure that even their biggest fan would have found a misstep here and ther… actually I'm not completely sure of that - nevermind. To date in our project of looking back at their work, we’ve only looked at albums which, at least in some respect, I have now found some type of larger appreciation of but, again, they have almost fifty of them, so certainly that hasn't been the case every time. And though I'm certainly not the biggest Midnite fan in the world, and probably never will be, even in the cases of my own favourites who have a great deal of music, I don't always walk away amazed (unless it is Queen Omega, of course) and the fact that I come back and do so religiously, shows just how impressed I have been and just how much I LOVE their work. 

In the case of Midnite in particular it is relatively straight forward like it is in several cases. What I enjoy most about 'their' music is one of the main things which many of their critics dislike. The experience of deciphering the points of Vaughn Benjamin is challenging and just really one of the most fascinating aspects of listening to anyone from the current era - and although he certainly can be "cryptic", I don't have a problem with that. What can happen, however, is that you can make a song which just becomes a distraction, musically. Given the variety of different producers that he has worked with through the years and the number of them that he has had success with, it does not seem to be difficult to make tracks for Benjamin, but given his style, you definitely have to find the right type of vibes to back him.
"New 1000" [2006]
When you don't do that strange things can happen. Strange things like "Current". This album would arrive during a very interesting year 2012 for Midnite which would not only see the release of a new I Grade Records album, "Jah Grid" ["Open Jah door and enter"], but also the most recent Midnite piece we looked at, "Suns Of Atom". And then there was a pair of releases which, at least for me, have grown to become a pair and at the front side of that link was "Current". The album was the first of two from 2006 which found Vaughn Benjamin teaming up with a US based band by the name of Mystic Vision (which is a really good name for a band in my opinion). This album is one that I heard and did not like, which isn't unusual (I didn't like most of these older albums we look at the first time I heard them), but I did eventually come around to gaining a small level of appreciation for it… the progress to which vanished very quickly. On the other hand, "New 1000", the other Midnite/Mystic Vision collaboration (which I should probably review next) is a release which I've grown to appreciate thoroughly and it isn't such a different piece from this one. "Current" was also the third release from Natural Vibes of a Midnite album and although I have well enjoyed some of the other material they did for other artists, such as Volcano and Sistah Joyce, especially, I've never really been a fan of the work that label did with Midnite (I think that "Maschaana" was probably the best of that lot and it was an above average set). There doesn't seem to be one marked existing characteristic which they all exhibit in some way which turns me away, but they just have not had the lasting type of appeal for me. And this is so with a nice variety just within four albums total. Natural Vibes worked with Ras L, Mystic Vision and they would even do "Project III", which was a Branch 1 album, so they well put forth the effort and the diversity (and even the attempt is admirable). However, when it came to results, I find myself with moments such as on the aforementioned "Maschaana" which contained a song by the name of "Sha-Tee" which turned out to be one of the best Midnite songs I have ever heard. "Current" could have definitely used a "Sha-Tee" or two or three to go further because where it did stop was looking at a future which has seen it go on to become not a very well remembered project and one which was just very odd. It's also seems to be one which would be pretty fun to talk about. Let's find out. 

So what was wrong with this album??? To my opinion it was an album which highlighted what can go wrong when you do the music for a Midnite album. It also featured a version of Vaughn Benjamin who, although he always possesses some modicum of brilliance, was nowhere near being his best. The music was very varied and just covered too much ground, so as a listener, it was very difficult to get 'comfortable' with. "Current" would start with one of the better songs on the album, but one which was, by no means, a great one, 'Vibzin'. I wouldn't be surprised if the tune was a total freestyle from Benjamin and it isn't a bad one. The issue here is the appeal of the tune. If it were without music or without words, either would be better than the two linked as it is on the album. Next we have the somewhat Hip-Hoppish 'Ankoman' which, again, isn't a bad song. This track speaks, intensely, to the power of His Majesty and it also has a nice bit of extra bite to it as well which is always nice to hear from Vaughn Benjamin and it is one of the best songs here, but I don't think that I would say such a thing for many other Midnite albums. 'Only' has a very interesting and attractive sound to it but it never really goes too far. Very similar to the opener, it has a beautiful vibes which just doesn't mesh very well with the lyrics and lyrically that song looks up to many on this album. I once really enjoyed the song 'Jah' and though it has faded quite a bit, what still resonates is Benjamin in this unfaltering stream of words. Even when not at his best, this man has nary a peer as a writer in music and a song such as this one stands as a prime example of that. Still, to my opinion, the biggest winner of the first third of "Current" was the very strong 'Mornin'

"David had occasion to trod against a boy with a stone and a sling
He was the keeper of the animals, it was not war that he wanted
It was not fight that he was looking
From morning
From early morning

Wake up upful and happy and enthusiastic about this thing
Police trailing, trying to put a damper pon my base heart string
Rastafari as I must compel
From morning
From morning, when Rasta trod out to do this thing
Just to sing a Haile praises to The King
Hey, babylon trailing from morning

Tension about this thing
Even delicate little woman haffi feel this thing
Its like if no one is exempt from this thing"

The riddim on the tune starts out kind of terrifying, but it relaxes and produces my second favourite song on this album and it isn't until the penultimate selection of the album that it is topped. 

Prior to that, however, the middle portions of "Current" are near replicas to its early stages. This begins with another tune which has a very unusual disconnect between words and sound, 'From'. Though it is quite skeletal, if you were to make this selection words only, it would still be quite good in my opinion, but it is somewhat lost in this murky (but still nice) (more on that later) riddim. The song which follows 'From', 'Fors Ake', has a vibes which is very similar to it, although it does well come through in a much more vivid way. There is a 'brightness' here which does not exist on the song which precedes it on the album. The message on the song is one which deals with faithfulness to The Almighty, but even it never really develops to its full potential, in my opinion, on this ultra-straightforward selection. 'Perilus' is a rather significant step ahead of the two offerings just ahead of it and it is the best song in the middle of this album altogether. 

"Know this: In the last days, perilous times will come
Men will be lovers of themselves - lovers of money
Boasters proud -
Blasphemers disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy
Unloving, unforgiving slanderers without self-control
Traitors and headstrong and haughty
Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of Jah, Rastafari
And from such - people turn away"

I really take this one as a social commentary with a spiritual backbone and, lyrically, it does make its greatest point there, but it is, like several sounds here, a combination of a good pieces, but not necessarily a GOOD song for me. There are also both 'Build Love' and 'Up Full' here. The former is a song that I did used to find appealing but it has dwindled over time. The tune features members of Mystic Vision (including Andres Estrada who is the main producer here) and it has such a nice and inviting sound that you really do want to like it and actually do find enjoyment in elements of it, but as a whole not as much. For 'Up Full' - that song is really just frustrating. There is something here which is building but never really pinnacles on this track. I think that it could have really been a great song, but it ultimately is not. 

As I mentioned, the grand highlight of "Current", as far as I'm concerned comes in its latest stages. Before (and after) that point there're songs which continue the 'stream' of traits present throughout the album. A song like 'Almighty', for example, has an R&B and almost Poppish vibes to it and it simply does not work for me as an entire piece. It does, however, feature Benjamin absolutely TUNED IN to what he is doing in the midst of offering (and if you listen really closely on that song, it sounds like you can hear him shuffling around paper in the background) (just thought that you'd like to know) one of the most powerful lyrical displays on this record. The downright awkward 'Won' is up next and it is… well it's downright awkward. This 'one' finds Vaughn Benjamin basically rapping on the track and the song kind of loses a little bit of a lustre that it may've had under different circumstances and it may just be my least favourite song on this album. 'Word' is substantially better (that isn't hard to be) and, despite its unusual sound, this piece would fit comfortably on many different Midnite albums. What I took from this selection was it was another social commentary, but one with more of a tangible focus than a song such as 'Perilus' from earlier. Also, I do want to make a point with this song because it succeeds where other songs fail. You do have a different type of vibes here, but this time it matches the delivery and you end up with one of the best songs on "Current". Then is THE best song of this album, 'Seashells'

"Mother Nature you - resplendent you 
Waterfalls you
Cascading silver hues
Of you, of you!

These days are few
When goodness - pervading
Perpetual truth
The way you keep on giving raindrops through the seashells"

Everything about it nice and serene and laidback which PERFECTLY melds things together so nicely. Benjamin speaks wonderfully of the beauty of nature of the world and just how inspiring it is to humankind. I really like how it fits in the kind of ideas behind his line of writing. So many times you listen to a Midnite song and you may struggle to find its meaning (which, as I said, I do not mind so much and actually LIKE in many instances), but you don't have to do that here. It is a song clearly inspired by nature and one brought to life by one of the greatest musical life-givers that we have ever heard in Reggae. And lastly is 'To The Youth' which returns "Current" to form. It is an average song in the end, but one which, once again, is quite strange on the ears and virtually vacant of melody.

I do want to say something else which stands out as very odd about "Current". Musically speaking - Mystic Vision did a sensational job with this album. The music, on almost every song is top notch in its own way and my real problem is just how well they lend themselves to be used by the artist. It isn't the easiest album to listen to, even by Midnite's very different standards.
Overall, "Current" was not a HORRIBLE album, but it just may stand as the worst Midnite album that I've heard. And part of that has to deal with just how much potential it had. That same budding quality was thoroughly realized and reached on the "New 1000" album whose existence, in some way (why not), does kind of lessen what "Current" wasn't for me because it almost seems that the two were intentionally part of  a project and "New 1000" was its second half. Its first, in retrospect, would have probably scared me away from the second (and that may explain why the "New 1000" album (review coming soon) is even less popular than this album is today), but going on eight years later, things have changed. What hasn't, unfortunately, is "Current" which is one of very few lowlights in a catalogue otherwise PACKED with bright moments. 

Rated: 2/5
Natural Vibes Records
CD + Digital 

Review #478

1 comment:

  1. As someone just getting into this band, I love your Midnite reviews. Thanks for all the effort you clearly put in.