Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Vault Reviews: "Project III" by Midnite

Smooth surfaces. Depending on exactly who you're dealing with, the importance of good production and musical support becomes a trait of varying importance with different artists. Ideally, you'd want great production for every vocal talent on every song, but such a thing isn't possible and when you either don't get that top level work behind the scenes or you do get it but in awkward ways, as I'm sure you've noticed throughout the years, the results can be disastrous. What I tend to base things on, primarily, is melody. A nice riddim behind a tune which may not be the most entertaining to listen to sans music can definitely pick that tune up a few notches if the vocal and musical arrangements mix well, while a poor one can drag it down even further (and you'll find me saying stuff such as a particular song would have been better if it were without musical accompaniment at all). And this is true for a variety of different artists. Someone like a Capleton or Jah Mason may not have those type of problems because their intensities can actually overcome and become their own melodies. So, if you put a put at least a properly paced piece behind them, then you may not need to do much else to have a winner of a song. For others such as Lutan Fyah and Chezidek, it may be more problematic. The former came up a bit mechanical in his nascent stages as a musician (before we realized that the man was a bonafide lyrical genius) and though he has progressed throughout his career, I still would not call him one of the most melodically gifted of chanters in the genre, so it is always nice when his songs are matched up properly (and he's been on amazing roll recently, so it hasn't been much of a problem in what has easily been one of the best years of his career. As for Chezidek, his very unusual voice doesn't always lend itself, inherently, to carrying melodies very well, so you love to see when he's lined up very well also (and, again, you won't find too many problems in his recent history, what you will find instead is excellent vibes). Another group still kind of floats around this type of thinking and sometimes it appears as if you'll need the greatest of maestros to work with them while at others, they can apply their vocals over… noise, and still find successes. This would include some of the more unusually gifted artists, such as someone like Jah Cure whose voice is the greatest in musical history and can overpower and full on DISTRACT from almost anything going on in a song and then there is the curious case of Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite.

Benjamin's is a very rare example because, on one hand, he has virtually no melody to speak of. He can be monotonous and even mumbles at times, so any melody from one of his songs is likely to come from the track and only the track. On the other hand it may not even matter. The attraction to his music are his lyrics and, at his best, who cares what music is playing behind him, you probably aren't paying attention to it anyway. In our more recent instances of dealing with some of the group's older works, focusing on the "Current" and "New 1000" albums, respectively, we took a look at projects which featured a more varied type of style and, distinctly in those cases, we had a collection of opposites in terms of quality (which is so nice there because the same people did both albums and did them in the same year). Today, however, we make a 180 turn (biggup Beres Hammond) go in the full other direction and examine a release whose musical work, for the most part, was just SO relaxed and straightforward that it kind of stands out in a somewhat similar way to those two far more colourful sets. "Project III" was an interesting vision for a variety of reasons and not the least of which was what happen when you got around to actually listening to the music.

"Project III", in a couple of cases, arose via circumstances which wouldn't lend it to being a favourite of mine, personally. Released in 2004, the album came via Natural Vibes (who also did "Current" and "Thru & True") which hasn't exactly been a fruitful source, for me, for good Midnite albums (though, as I've said in the past, I do like pretty much everything else they ever did). Also on board here was Ras L whose projects (which include "Thru & True" and "Full Cup") also have not been great standouts for me and have not been really well regarded releases either (I'm convinced that "Thru & True" is probably the most panned Midnite album of all time) amongst more stalwart, knowledgeable and passionate Midnite fans than I. And my own experience with this album hasn't been great either. Though it does contain a MOUNTAIN of a song, "Project III" was one which I've always regarded as fairly average. So, at least on the surface (and obviously a little beyond), "Project III" doesn't line up as a set which I'm probably going to like, but after working on it for a full review… a few things have changed slightly. This is an album which has largely been forgotten nearly a decade following its release and, looking back, perhaps that was due to its timeframe. In 2004 "Project III" would have had to compete for attention with an album which is, easily, one of the most well known in Midnite's catalogue, "Scheme A Things" and this wasn't the album to have the type of 'legs' to do that. What it did have going for it in terms of notability was that it was one of just a few Midnite Branch I albums which definitely gives it more fuel amongst the hardcore fans (but probably not anyone else). "Project III" may just be one of the least heard Midnite albums these days (biggup "Maschaana" and "Ark A Law") so it should definitely be interesting to dig up and see what we find. Grab a shovel and pickaxe and let's go.

Okay so maybe a pickaxe is too much… and you might not really need a shovel. Your fingernails may even be too hard to dive into this album actually. "Project III" was an album marked, musically, by real soft and simple sounds which ultimately would make for an enjoyable experience when put together and a bit better than average album. Check the opener, 'Inter Queenly', as an example of just how easy this album can get. Though Vaughn Benjamin's tones travel here, a tiny amount, the riddim here is about as difficult as taking a nap. The song is one which really deals with, obviously, the power of Women in the world, but maybe there was some type of more detailed planning here because a sub-subject on 'Inter Queenly' is definitely COMFORT and the comfort that females give to the world and the song is an extremely comforting piece. And though things draw closer back to the center for the next song, 'Make Manifest' is nearly just as snug as the opener. The riddim on this tune is absolutely sublime (biggup sax player, Adalai Sutton) and Benjamin makes the most of it by delivering a spellbindingly brilliant message of focusing on the right things and reaching one's full potential in life. 

"Everyone have potential fi mek manifest something
Capital is not the most notable investment you invest in
Manners and sensibility harvesting 
Can contribute in 
Minimalist and precautionist of spirit - they call dem savages
Conservationalist of natural and against wastefulness
And now they educate themselves about reverse of this
So which one is it?
All fossil fuel ahgo use and sun ahgo dash weh this
Nature ah recycle bun di shell and make di birds eat di fruit skin
Keep a righteous vigil shining it
Which one is it?
What is your ideology inna yuh creed?
Is it just greed?"

As mighty as the song is, I'd still be quite interested in hearing a clean version of this tune because that track is so beautiful. Sutton's immaculate work returns on the next tune as well, 'Justify' (and then never again after that unfortunately). Justify sounds gorgeous, but it is some work in finding comprehension. What I came to take from the tune was that it was a piece about expanding and spreading culture and good thoughts and ideas and LOVE. I am, of course, still working on this one, however, and I hear something damn powerful buried in this tune. 'Holding On To', which isn't exactly simple, kind of comes as a relief following 'Justify'. This one is about cutting down on negative influences in life and grabbing on to and enhancing the positivity. The vibes here are somewhat strange (that riddim is almost annoying), but the song is a decent one with a bit of diversity as well. 'The Law' brings the serenity back to "Project III", for the most part. I'm not terribly fond of this tune either because it kind of represents one of those moments which tend to happen on Midnite albums (and that I alluded to), where it actually sounds like there're two different songs being voiced here because of the failure to link the melodies. It certainly isn't horrible, but it just as surely isn't amongst the class of this album. 

While the biggest moment of "Project III" is near its end, the middle portions of the album bring a few things well worth your attention as a listener also. To my opinion, the best of these are 'M ah W and Z ah N' and the album's changeup 'Wa Dem A Do [Pollen]'. The former is HEAVY as it deals with taking a deeper look at things as they really are ["If wi all ah claim seh that dem find wi heathen, when wi all ah sit upon the fruit of heaven"]. The approach here is another very simple one musically and it makes for a very strong moment. As for 'Wa Dem A Do', its sound is unlike anything else you'll find on "Project III" and along with being a tune which will get your attention for that reason, its message, which glues itself to that track is very pertinent as well. The other three songs here, in the middle of that album, are also of note. 'Bling Scene' is not a great song at all, but that riddim IS a great one. It doesn't, however, sound like a something that you'd put behind vocals. As an instrumental, it'd be much greater without question. 'Ainshant' is very close to being something really good, but that song is almost TOO laidback. The smallest modicum of passion would've done more for it, but as it is, you have an average song on paying respects to those who came before you. 'Teach Root Each Root' is a good song, though it took quite awhile for me to arrive at that conclusion. It kind of plays the other side of the tune preceding it ('Ainshant') because it is about setting and leaving a proper example for those who are to come after you. The song also features what may be the finest vocal performance of Benjamin on "Project III" and that is a quality which I don't think that he gets enough credit for, even today. Yes, he mumbles and that press release I read (I think for the "Be Strong" album) that called his voice 'electric' (or something like that) was ridiculous, but Vaughn Benjamin does have a range which, when he uses it properly can make for some very entertaining and compelling music. It isn't at its best on 'Teach Root Each Root', but it is far from its worst. 

And as we come into the final stages of the album, "Project III" gives us one MAMMOTH piece and surrounds it in, for the most part, pretty good music. That big moment comes in the form of the album's best tune altogether and a song which may be one of my favourite Midnite tunes ever as well, 'Permit Zion'

"Living in a place that state steadfastly stead-firm -
To the principle of repatriation is who gonna stay son
Is who get intermolecular magnetic polarity - permission
For it's The Most High, Haile Selassie who create Zion

Now hear whappen - read them intellectual self-stroking
Ancient prewritten outcome 
Break off nose, jealousy -
Presidential memorabilia memoir
Scorn and ridicule for the emotional and realistic -
Outburst of duly elected oxymoron being called names 
Black, dead and none of dem take notice
Black leader 
And the people being sacrificed in between

TEARS! You'll listen to this song and you may not get it after twenty spins, but stay with it! This thing crawled all over my senses when I finally came into the thought of what was being said. I took this one broadly in the sense of having the spiritual world, in general, existing in the minds of the people and I always enjoy that 'cooperation' between the two when you acknowledge that the tangible and the spiritual HAVE TO exist with one another in order for the spiritual to exist at all. And, going a step further, Benjamin is saying to keep an open mind and be open to new experiences as well. Sonically, it isn't the greatest song at all, but if you put together the ideology behind it, it is without peer on this album and many other from Midnite as well. And the two selections chasing 'Permit Zion', the final two songs on the album, 'What Will I Give' and 'Feeding Een' are also pretty nice. The former is the stereotype for the album: An extremely tranquil offering with a nice message, while the latter brings a bit more of an edge both in music and vocal delivery which is a nice way to end things with one of the best songs on the album. Prior to that, we also get a pair of tunes in 'Humble' and 'Soon Is'. Neither one of these are really exceptional in my opinion. 'Soon Is' does offer a bit more and is a song that I'm still working on a little because I do really enjoy the message -- which deals with making a move in a certain time and not procrastinating too much -- but I haven't gotten to the point just yet where I recognize the song as much more than average.  
Overall, the same could be said for the entire album, but in this particular case, that's a good thing. As I said, I didn't hold this album in a very high esteem, but it is a wholly better 'project' than I ever gave it credit for being previously. The continuous star here is just the mood of the album. The frame of mind presented by the music really can take you through a wide range of emotions and it goes from being a typical Midnite release into something else. I didn't listen to "Project III" in the way that I usually listen to these albums, even for reviewing them. I had to almost separate the music from the lyrics and then go back and hear them together because you lose a significant portion of an album like this if you don't. Ultimately, however, "Project III" stands as yet another appetizingly challenging Midnite album which is probably just a little better than you think it is. Take another listen.

Rated: 3/5
Natural Vibes Records

Review #483

No comments:

Post a Comment