Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Vault Reviews: "Suns Of Atom" by Midnite

Origins. As we return to the vaults of Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite, today we take a look back [forward] at a project which, perhaps somewhat quietly, would be the beginning of one of the most fruitful and fertile relationships the 'group' has ever been a part of. Though, and rightfully so, we look back at the work of I Grade Records for having played the greatest role, in terms of labels, in aiding to push the music of Midnite the furthest because of their amazing promotion, their large albums have, very much, been complimented by smaller releases which have well fed the passions of the most fervent of Midnite fans. This next group of albums have come from such a wide variety of producers and labels, though, interestingly, that group has very much been streamlined in recent years (which is made even more fascinating when you accept that Midnite's release schedule really hasn't suffered because of it). These days, and essentially dating back to 2010 or so, when a new Midnite album is on the horizon, you can be pretty sure that it is coming from a handful of sources (which is small for them, but still ridiculously large for pretty much anyone else, particularly considering that this is a 'question' that is still posed and answered three or four times a year). There is the aforementioned I Grade Records who arrives every two or three years or so and tells all with functioning or semi-functioning ears and eyes what awaits with their projects. There's also, of course, Rastar Records with whom, if you absolutely need to hear something new from Midnite, you should be very familiar. And, of course, albums that tend to carry the label 'real Midnite album' or something like such, tend to come from Rastafaria or Afrikan Roots Lab (such as the forthcoming "Lion Out Of Zion", for which we have been waiting entirely too long!). You'll also have one or  two others, such as Higher Bound Productions and definitely there is one more label whom, particularly recently, but thoroughly in all respects, have done some of the more memorable moments in the entire Midnite catalogue. 

Over just the past two years, Fifth Son Records has made a fan out of me. Certainly my becoming more and more interested in the music of Midnite has played a large part in that, but the work that they have done in that time has been nothing short of spectacular as well. Their two albums in that time with Benjamin, "In Awe" and "Be Strong", might both register as top ten favourites of mine from Midnite ever (and even if they didn't, surely they would both be top fifteen) and they both had this wonderful time-delayed quality which, even today, makes for albums which seem to grow and grow in quality during every spin through. I also like the more behind the scenes work of FSR as well. Though you won't find Midnite albums with the general public stature and popularity as those released through I Grade, Fifth Son has managed to do projects which, in their own way have remained very well known Midnite albums. "In Awe" took awhile (of course), but sits today as one of their more respected projects in recent times and also, at least in my opinion, the large early buzz behind the "Be Strong" album was a direct benefit of the work its elder sibling had done (which, itself, was certainly helped by "Kings Bell" before it). But although I caught on, in the current sense, just last year, the working relationship between Vaughn Benjamin and Fifth Son Records did not begin in 2012.
"In Awe" [2012] & "Be Strong" [2013]
It did begin six years earlier. In 2006 the first of… six [I THINK] Midnite/Fifth Son Records collaborations, "Suns Of Atom", reached shelves and some history was born. That same relationship would go own to birth what is now considered a landmark release from Midnite, the doubled-up "Standing Ground" ["And He ever was so, Jah know. He ever was so!"] [BOOM!], its dubbed out counterpart, as well as the very solid "Momentum", along with the previously mentioned sets. So, as you can see, while they may not have been appreciated as so in their respective times (although "Standing Ground" most certainly was), Fifth Son Records has established a very good record for releasing Midnite albums and, at least to my typically incorrect and inaccurate knowledge, they have really done too many project for much of anyone else through the years. However, with that being said, “Suns Of Atom", as far as its popularity hasn't aged very well. Even when compared to somewhat similar albums around the same time such as "Better World Rasta", "Infinite Quality" (two albums which were firsts from their respective labels from Midnite) and "Thru & True", an album historically known for just how much people did not like it, (but it was better than it was given credit for being in my opinion), "Suns Of Atom" does not stand up well in terms of how well known it is today. HOWEVER, as we have seen many times during our running look back at the work of Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite: A lack of popularity does not mean a lack of quality. Even before I dug into this album for reviewing purposes, I knew how good it was and had rated it amongst the absolute most underrated albums that Midnite had done, which is saying a lot and now, after going back and breaking things down even more, I'm convinced. Not only was "Suns Of Atom" a much better album that history has recognized it as being, but it was damn good by comparison to the later work which would follow. Let me tell you why. 

In a trait which it only shared with one of its successors, "Standing Ground", "Suns Of Atom" was billed as 'A Midnite & Lion Tribe Collaboration'. I believe that the Lion Tribe is the band of label head, John Juaquin Wilson and though eventually the tag would vanish, it was present in the first two sets from Midnite for Fifth Son Records. Also, this album had a very 'smooth' quality to it. Because of his lyrical (Martian-like) proficiency, it isn't a quality often attributed to the work of Vaughn Benjamin, but "Suns Of Atom" was very easy album to listen to and enjoy. Want an example? Check the album's delightful opener, 'Meltout'. This song goes in so many different directions, but what I took from it was that it was about change and how things change in the world (and how they change). At the head of change, obviously, is His Imperial Majesty and this tune, really dazzles during its latter stages, making for one of the more memorable tunes on this record. Arguably even memorabler (WHAT!) is the album's second song, the downright destructive 'Atom Trees'. Here, over a bassline which is just… candy, Benjamin deals with nature and how it relates to and enhances human life. As is his norm, he takes a winding route to make his point, but in this instance, it sounds SO good. Things get a bit more Jazzy on what remains my favourite song altogether on "Suns Of Atom", the MASSIVE 'Wesside'.

"Haile Selassie I, mi starting from
I try fi the same thing to all his favourite sons
Wicked to burn weh from dem imposition
Dem wid irrelevant of input 
Dem neva business how fi go keep di earth sound
Firm and ah praise it, yet dem attempt to spoil 

BOOM! GRRRR! Benjamin absolutely attacks the jewel of a track supplied by Wilson and company (that may actually be one of the better tracks that I've heard. It was THAT good) with a worded arsenal fittingly brilliant for the occasion. Here, the song is one which can be called a social commentary, but as the title implies, it also finds its roots on a more Diaspora-oriented ground ["Out of di east, upon di west side. Black dispersion upon di west side"] and it ultimately thrives mightily with a golden repertoire and link of word and sound! BOOM AGAIN! I'll also mention here a tune of which I am very fond by the name of 'Moonlite'. This GORGEOUS piece also contains similar sentiments to those expressed from the 'Atom Trees' but it is, to my opinion, a considerably better song. It also comes from, seemingly, a more personal place from Benjamin and is a spectacular piece on "Suns Of Atom". 

One of the best things about going and taking in-depth looks at these older albums is because it really allows certain tunes to blossom like you've never heard them before and in this case there is a song here which I simply never recall hearing like this before but if you wanted to call it even stronger than 'Wesside', I wouldn't argue with you too much. 'Inirie' is PROBLEMS! 

"And then the facing on the system - have to face it
If you see Rasta, the danger minimizing
Waan fi take a storm system, modernizing
The most modern things are happening
Jah shall create in di earth a new thing"

This tune is about creating a peace and a harmony in the world and enjoying it! Benjamin also talks about what happens when/if this social concord is not ultimately reached and how much chaos will come in its place. The sound of the song is also very worth paying attention to (more on that in just a minute). Not far behind 'Inirie' in quality is a pair of earlier selections, 'Mirrorin' and especially 'Temple'. The former is interesting for all kinds of different reasons, not the least of which is because it is utterly perplexing. If you are new to Vaughn Benjamin's way of writing, some might say that this is typical for him, but 'Mirrorin' is a tune which wholeheartedly challenges the listener and that's not a problem for me at all. Where I am taking from it today (at this moment, though I'll likely change my mind before this sentence is done) is that Benjamin is talking about people of two different types --the righteous and the unrighteous-- and just how similar they can be at times and how 'simple' it may be for someone to change their ways and walk a different path if they chose to. I also think that he deals with the 'replay' type of effect in how history seems to repeat itself at times. It is just such a RIPE composition of ideas and one which you know I'm still working on and loving it! The stirring 'Temple' is far more rudimentary, it is a fully infectious type of a praising song and one of the most sonically pleasing moments on the whole of "Suns Of Atom".

Longtime Midnite collaborator, Jah Rubal, makes an appearance on this album and he is giving a full showcase on its penultimate piece, 'Ganjah Man'. Much like Vaughn Benjamin, Rubal is someone who you have to adjust to and become accustomed to hearing because he attacks each and every track he get, every time. 'Ganjah Man' is no exception to that and it is a decent piece as far as Rubal's tunes go. 'These and Those' is a very intense offering as far as Midnite's music go. It has something about it that draws you in (again, more on that, one of this album’s greatest features, in a moment) and it is definitely not to be missed. Also check the lovely 'Spirits'. The vibes on this piece are just so BRIGHT and moving that it demands you to take a notice of it and when you do, what ignites for you is a sound focused on positivity in the world and what we all can do (even the music) to enhance it everywhere. There're three songs on "Suns Of Atom" which I do not like, 'End of Doubt', 'Sanctify' and the closer 'Avionics'. Not one of them are what I would call BAD (and 'Sanctify' is very close to being above average and I did used to like 'End of Doubt'), but they do not approach the quality levels of the better material on this album to my opinion.
With that being said, however, I would like to make a case about the songs on the album, for the most part. The music throughout "Suns Of Atom" is nearly spectacular or better. Musically speaking, just on the vibes, it is EASILY one of the best Midnite albums that I have heard and that is its lasting appeal for me. I really like how the riddims here come off like songs themselves and not just carriers and backbones for the songs. And with nearly half of the album's thirteen tracks being north of six minutes in length (and one of them, 'Mirrorin', being more than EIGHT), the listener really gets a very healthy and powerful dosage of what the album's greatest feature. So biggup FSR.

Overall, the "Suns Of Atom" album served as a very firm foundation for what was to come. Though you may not appreciate it (or even know it) (yet), Midnite and Fifth Son Records have gone on to do some really powerful work and now, taking this type of look, it really shouldn't be surprising given how high they started together. For what it was and still is, this album is a highlight in the catalog and not just because of what would follow it. Along with the music, of course it finds Vaughn Benjamin in a typically brilliant form and there're two or three songs on this album which really rank as personal favourites of mine. The album itself also holds a very nice place as one which, though it took awhile for me, sits at the head of a VERY large musical table. 

Rated: 4/5
Fifth Son Records
CD + Digital 

Review #477


  1. I'll have to try this one once again. I've never fully appreciated it because it doesn't sound sonically pleasing to me. The riddims are different. I rate it last in Fifth Son's catalog. I hope I can see what you do someday.

  2. Vaughn's delivery is different too. Not all the riddims and delivery are weird, but I dunno yet.

  3. Keep dealing with it Cassa, it's in there. But it may not be for you, the next one we do will be one that I worked on and worked on, but never really liked.

  4. Okay. Yea I went through it while doing some homework and I noticed that Suns of Atom is just not the sounds I'm vibrating with this year (or the past year lol). I'm already eating my words because I do recognize that it sounds great judging it from it's own vibes. There are definitely moments I still do not like, most evident on End of Doubt.

    I put on Momentum afterwards as a test and those vibes are cooler sounding. I can imagine delving deep into Suns of Atom when I'm in the mood for that kinda spiritual dive.