Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Vault Reviews: "New 1000" by Midnite

More directions. Almost any consistent fan of almost any genre will likely be able to point out certain aspects of the music which are extremely prevalent and ultra-used. If you listen to a great deal of Dancehall, for example, you are very familiar with the three G's of subjectry: Girls. Guns. Ganja. Unfortunately, in some way so many of the songs in that genre are likely to be about one of them to the point where if you make a song not falling into either category, people like me will almost instantly celebrate you (assuming you do whatever it is that you do well) and say stuff, like you're "changing it up" or "going in a different direction". Similarly, if you even remotely know what a 'Soca' is, then you're sure to be familiar with how so many songs can find themselves, in one way or another, ultimately in the midst of some rabidly immortal session of jumping and waving. It sounds like it, but not all of these things are inherently bad (there's nothing wrong with either jumping or waving, nor is there anything wrong with doing both simultaneously) (go ahead, give it a try) (feels good, doesn't it?!) and, at least in some cases, actually help to outline and reinforce certain things which help to build a particular sound of a particular genre. In Roots Reggae music, these type of standards are often very steadfastly adhered to by… pretty much everyone who participates in the genre. What do they make music about? If you've read my work to any degree of consistency, the phrases 'obligatory ganja song', 'obligatory Mama song' and others are surely recognizable (and even if they aren't, continue reading this one, I'm sure I'll pull out one or two of them here). There're commentaries on the state of the times ('social commentaries'), songs to inspire change and reform ('call to action') and, of course, tunes which give thanks to The Almighty ('praising song'). There's also a signature sound and while this obviously varies depending on the producer, just like any other genre of music, Roots Reggae definitely has its own immediately identifiable, heavy, sound. Roots Reggae music can also be a somewhat 'rigid' art (which also isn't automatically a bad thing) and, sometimes, attempting to step outside or bend this particular genre can lead to some truly disastrous results… but not always. 

When you have someone who doesn't exactly specialize in doing things 'rigidly' and, in fact, specifically does things in a way in which NO ONE else does, then maybe you can do different things AT TIMES. That brings us, again, to the wonderful world of Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite who definitely take no course already taken by one of their peers. Previously, we took a look at an album by the name of "Current" from 2006 which stands as one of my absolute LEAST favourite Midnite albums to date and it was an album which was very colourful. The music there went in so many different directions which really just didn't work for Midnite and, as I said, sometimes when you try to do things like that, the results can be pretty bad and "Current" and was a prime example of that. But, even in the same year, "Current" had an even more textured younger sibling which turned out quite a bit better than it did.  
"Current" [2006]
They named it "New 1000". This album would arrive under nearly the precise set of circumstances that birthed the "Current" album, earlier in the same year. The albums were collaborations with and were produced by the US based band, Mystic Vision and both just had a much different sound - "Current" did not work, "New 1000" did. One difference between the backgrounds of the two were their labels. "Current" came via Natural Vibes, but "New 1000", on the other hand, was pushed by a Full Grown Records. While I don't know much about the label, they would also deliver the second album from fiery VI chanter, Ancient King, "Judgement" from a couple of years on. That album wasn't the King's best work ("Conquering Sound" was) and it hasn't aged particularly well either, but I outside of a mixtape, I don't know what else FGR did in their time, so (at least to my knowledge) "New 1000" was their greatest contribution as it was as far as Midnite/Mystic Vision albums. As far as musically what the two projects did share was a great amount of variance in the vibes. Ostensibly, however, "New 1000" did not go as far. What it did do, instead, was to come wrapped up in this downright GLOWING package. There are so many songs on this album which had this very captivating quality to them which literally seemed to make them shine at points. Also, that quality would go to give a bit of a longer life to some of these songs, in my opinion. Though "New 1000" hasn't been an album which has gone on to become a very popular one, I still think that so much of it had a trait which has been demonstrated, for me, on so many of these albums that we've gone back to deal with: It gets better with time. And now, nearly eight years later, it sounds better than it ever has. "Current" also featured a version of Vaughn Benjamin who was at less than his best in my opinion. Of course it doesn't help when you are not the most melodically gifted chanters (and he is not) and you have strangeness to work with, but he's been in far better forms on albums which would fall just as far short of 'great' than what he presented on that album. "New 1000" not only had no such troubles (if you can make good melodies for JAH RUBAL (more on him in a second) Benjamin is not even a challenge) but it found the Midnite headman within his typically brilliant state. The album is one which is very recommended to both new and old fans alike and for a few reasons. Let's discuss! 

In its eighteen tracks, "New 1000" really got a lot accomplished. It was definitely not a 'skeletal' piece, but instead was quite vibrant and, again, glowing throughout. The lights on the stage of "New 1000" begin with certainly one of its finest offerings altogether, 'Real Time'. The track behind this tune is… very interesting! The song is one of those twistingly delicious praising songs (already) which're Vaughn Benjamin's specialty, but this one in particular full-on throws itself at the listener. It goes in so many different directions, but the pillaring piece of ideology here, in my opinion, is time. As time passes, so many things happen, all of which are dependent on time and TIME is dependent on His Majesty. Pay a very close attention on this one because the lyrics are definitely the real star, even in spite of that piece of riddim with it. 'Medulla Oblongata' continues the radiant opening. This one has another very curious riddim (although it is more terrestrial in this instance) and is an entirely curious selection in full. I don't quite know what the centralizing sentiment on this one is, but what I get from it is that it is a song focusing on processes. Because of that, it follows well the opener as, again, Benjamin takes a look at time, this time through the lens of examining Rastafari as the origins of man. Next is my favourite song on "New 1000", the SUBLIME 'Heart Stay'.

"My heart stay
My heart stay
With Jah Rastafari, my heart stay
In a place of good, my heart stay
Where there is unification, my heart stay
Where this is togetherness, my heart stay
When cooperation run away, my heart stay
I wanna be in a good place, where my heart stays
I do not wanna no where my heart stray away
Where my heart stays

Wake up in the morning to do my part
To pull my weight
To be involved will be a hundred more than 100% and more
From the root to be current, where my heart stay
Where my heart stay
With the ones who've had the patience to see I through dark time without scorn
With the ones who've been a bredrin bonafide
On a sunless day, eclipsed by time
My heart stay, my heart stay, my heart stay"

BOOM! This song is about foundations and laying foundations in life. What I really tuned in here is the kind of 'absent presence' presented here. You do not have to be physically where your heart is. You can go somewhere else, but ultimately it is where you are drawn back to and feel most comfortable. A DAMAGING song and the best on the album to my ears. I'll also mention here the fourth song on "New 1000", the very good and humbling (and somewhat Jazzy) 'Obey'. No matter how big you are and no matter how many people answer to you - you still have to answer to Someone. 

A rather large development on this album is definitely the participation of longtime Midnite associate, the aforementioned Jah Rubal. With the exception of his own album, 2008's "Fire Chariot", I don't know that you'll run into more music on one official release from Rubal than you do through "New 1000" which features the chanter on no less than four songs. His first tune comes in at #5, 'Give Me Me Ganja'. If you are not familiar with Jah Rubal, his style is even more straight forward and sans melody than Benjamin's and just like Vaughn, I don't think he cares even slightly. 'Give Me Me Ganja' is an entertaining piece, however and is the second best album featuring the work of Jah Rubal on this album. Rubal later returns on 'Jus Come Back' which, again, has a nice vibes to it and Rubal even deserves a credit in this case. It isn't only the riddim. The somewhat Hip-Hoppish tune almost seems like a total freestyle and it works for him here. There's also 'Gondar' which comes through across the same riddim as 'Medulla Oblongata'. That riddim has something about it which will probably always draw me in, but 'Gondar' is not a highlight here. What is, conversely, is the album's penultimate effort, 'Rastafari Right'. This tune is an actual combination between Rubal and Vaughn Benjamin (which may be quite rare because almost all of the time you hear from Jah Rubal, on any Midnite, it is on a solo track). Though he may not be in as good of a form as he is during 'Give Me Me Ganja', as a full production, 'Rastafari Right' is the best song on this album with Rubal's help. Jah Rubal's work can definitely be tedious in many ways, but I would say (before you go and buy a full album) that "New 1000" is a pretty good way to begin listening to his output if you have yet to. 

Throughout the album Vaughn Benjamin continues to turn in winning songs, making for a nice release. Check a song like 'Home' which does have a LUSH sound to it and is a piece of art. In its nonchalance, 'Home' does a lot of work. Benjamin places Rastafari as a centering source of power for people of a variety of different walks of life and even beliefs. This is very interesting, particularly when you consider the fact that he never says anything of some type of adjustment. For him it comes through as a very organic part of life. Even better than that is the second best song on "New 1000" in my opinion, 'Omega 6 Crystal'.

"The evil retreat when the plant overheat -
And release delineation in time
Fastly - as soon as the whole world is sick, dem ready fi seet
And the lot dem don't know ganja qualified
They say the asteroid built up before goldmine 
Luciferan with no rules and boundaries
No overstepped, no end, fi just cain and pleasure rule their mind
Yeah is only about if they can escape outright -
From the whole of the universe height 
And they manage fi get the earth fi bite"

"The earth was I witness to bone and overt sickness -
With clout and stiff powers of light
To the whole script now they try to rewrite
Hitler did not have blonde hair and blue eyes -
Yet behind him they all mobilized
It was mythical fulfillment - their pride
Exploration of Ethiopian mountain side
Red eyes"

On this song Benjamin deals with "the ID of life", which is an incredibly lofty topic, but he manages, as expected through… billions and billions of similar cases. Between 'Home' and 'Omega 6 Crystal' Benjamin puts us through a very solid trio of sounds in 'Racket', 'Law' and 'Resin'. Though all three of these have certain qualities which make them standout, I've focused primarily on the latter two. The Dancehall-ish 'Resin' is nearly spectacular.

"Invert the concept of Kings of Kings
Bone of I bone and I limb of limb
Recognize the concept of rationalism
If it's slim picking to chance is slim
Don't store up none of that sound there within

WHAT! BOOM! This one is about singing and speaking up for what you believe and though the riddim is one of a kind on this riddim, do your best to dig into it because Benjamin says so many things here which startle a listener and are downright brilliant. For its part, 'Law' is this building brilliant praising piece to The Almighty ["Haile Selassie is the mouth of the law"] which dazzles by song's end. Though I'm not particularly fond of the song 'Jerusalem', the two tunes just behind it are damn impressive. First is the scintillating 'Covenant Keeper' which is another sterling praise on "New 1000". And then there is 'Utterly Composed', a similar piece which goes beyond its predecessor (and almost every other tune on the album). A full calmness and composure and CONFIDENCE comes in the might of His Imperial Majesty and that is on full display on this piece. Rounding out the album (a very easy review to write) are 'Whims' and '9-5' and it is the first of these which is the real highlight. Featuring a riddim very similar to 'Gondar' and 'Medulla Oblongata', I took a lot from 'Whims'. What I think is the intention behind this one is to warn all about acting out impulsively and to take more time to really process your thoughts before they become your actions. '9-5', the album's closer, is a decent (and has one of the strongest riddims on the album) and somewhat bleak social commentary. It is somewhat sparse, but there is something special rumbling beneath that tune, so I will continue to work on it.
Overall, though I'd place an album like "New 1000" a full level below Midnite's best work, it was still a very good set and one which showed that you don't have to be formulaic in making music even Roots music. This one isn't as ostentatious as "Current" was, it does take a bit of time to notice the areas where it differs from most albums, but it is a significant step up from that release as well, so it warrants the greater listen. Again, you don't have to always follow the set ways to make an album and if you have nearly fifty of them and they all have a very common sound, no matter how good you are, that's going to be a bit boring and sets such as "New 1000" provide a very nice bit of a quality colour and diversity to Midnite's fantastic catalog. 

Rated: 3.85/5
Full Grown Records

Review #482

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