Tuesday, March 4, 2014

'Priming???': A review of "My Journey" by I-Octane

Deeper breaths. Despite any talk that you may hear of Reggae music being dead, or even remotely wounded in any significant way, a quick look and listen to the genre in almost any direction reduces that notion to ruins. I'd make the argument that artists at every stage are nearly, if not completely, as strong as they've ever been and, of course, with the music being as wide spread as it is these days, music of the current era -- unlike that of any one preceding it -- boasts a quantity of truly gifted names which goes unmatched. Already this year, we've looked upon a very interesting variety of names which definitely offer an inherent counter to anyone pushing an idea of the mortality of the genre. From the absolute heights of the music in someone such as Tarrus Riley, to up and comers such as Addis Pablo and Mr. Williamz and through to celebrated popular veterans such as Midnite and Ward 21 - in just a couple of months worth of albums (not even dealing with just big singles which would make things even more compelling), evidence already exists to suggest that 2014, like 2012, is about to be a special one (with a bag of albums from Sizzla Kalonji loaded and ready to go as well as others from Perfect Giddimani, Pressure Busspipe, Ziggi Recado and more). Today we take a look at someone who fits into a very interesting class as well. I don't think that, in the best intentions of the term, we can call someone like I-Octane an 'up and comer'. Surely he's still on the rise, but he's gotten here and if you were concerned, you know how talented he is: Immensely. Still, I don't at all think that the curiously gifted artist has approached the height of his talents. Unlike someone like Perfect (and I may be wrong about him), who I like to make the point of having risen to a point where, when compared to previous stages of his career, appears to not only be making excellent music, but also sustaining and maintaining it in a way in which we've never seen before; though making hits seems to come easy for him (as does being damn consistent) I don't think that we can say that yet about I-Octane. As fans, I think we're still trying to figure him out. 
"Crying For The Nation" [2012]
If his intense popularity and a very impressive level of prolificacy with high scoring singles isn't enough for you (then you… may want to consider lowering your ridiculously high standards), then certainly the biggest piece of verification of just how far the still quite young I-Octane has come already has been his debut album. In 2012, Octane released the loooooooong anticipated (it probably wasn't that long, but it just seemed like it at the time) (and we'll likely be saying the same thing about Chronixx before the end of the year) "Crying For The Nation". That album, as a big example, showed both a profound talent as well as the glaring likelihood that something better was on the horizon and not just in the form of a second album, but maybe a dozen of them by the time he's done. It was exceptional. It was classy. It was very well done in general. It was popular and well received. And it was just the beginning.  
Step two. In the brief time since, Octane has continued along in much the same spectacular form and, rather quickly, he now arrives at album #2, "My Journey". Unlike its predecessor which was a VP release, I-Octane's sophomore set comes courtesy of Tad's Records who has already done a sterling job in promoting it. You could even make the case that they have done as good of a job as VP with the debut as news of "My Journey" has been almost inescapable over the past month or so if you pay attention to Reggae albums (and you do). Though they do not tend to receive that type of credit and attention and respect, Tad's is easily one of the biggest labels in Reggae music these days and has been for awhile. I think that because they release so much material, that they can go somewhat overlooked, but this album changes things as it is their biggest release in some time. On the musical end, the albums links Octane with clearly one of his favourite maestros, the WHOLLY unavoidable DJ Frass. If you listen to modern Reggae music and enjoy it, you are a fan of Frass', whether you realize it or not. He is certainly one of the genre's most active builders and he has worked and continues to work alongside some of the best in the genre. One of his most constant staples is I-Octane and the two have already produced a considerable amount of work together and formed a very solid working relationship. According to the press releases for this one, "My Journey" was a few years in the making and, when they decided that its proper time had arisen, the album was completed very shortly. Given the already very high level of success of both men, I think that there may come a day when we look back at what they've done as comprising one of the most fruitful artist/producer combinations in recent times or longer. But the first thing that they have to do together is to successfully navigate their way through this voyage and, at least hopefully, turn up another bright light in a year which is turning out to be a shining one. I wasn't totally expecting "My Journey" (or any second studio album) so soon after "Crying To The Nation", but when the news of it broke during late last year or so, the outlooks went exceedingly high and, as I said, as things progressed along, the album became more and more visible along the way. Now? I'm damn looking forward to hearing what they've come up with and exactly how far along this journey has progressed. Let's take a listen! 

The one thing that stood out immediately about this new album is just how 'open' it was. I don't use that term in this kind of genre-traveling fashion -- this is a Reggae album -- and it is a very accessible one and one which was seemingly done in a very level-headed and organic type of manner. The results make for a big and compelling project and one which is a clear step ahead of the first one, which was already very good. I-Octane's new album, "My Journey" begins with one of its biggest features and a track which is poised to do a whole heap of damage if it receives the opportunity, 'Time Will Come'. This downright royal sounding composition is of a 'silver lining' variety with Octane saying that no matter how bad things get, if you live a clean and decent life, things will turn up for the better and your 'time will come'. It is a very nice and poignant message, but this song is appreciable on many levels because it sounds so good. And then there's 'Million Miles Away'… TEARS! If the opener was "royal", and it was, then 'Million Miles Away' is royaler (not really a word). Everything, without exception, about this tune is grand and special and it is a STUNNING creation and the summit of this journey. What I took from it is that it is a piece about not 'knowing' yourself, but learning yourself and the process you go through to reach that state of mind. Octane, again, kind of makes that point by surrounding it, ultimately, in attractive things. When you truly know yourself, you leave negativity behind and inherit serenity ["far from the bloody city, bloody zone - a place to call my own"]. A MAMMOTH tune. The tune which follows 'Million Miles Away' is the absolutely delightful 'Stepping In The Name of Love'. It kind of follows the ideology set in the two preceding selections in a way. This tune is about heading in a upright direction and living a good life. What I really like about these songs and, about the album in general, is that I-Octane always leaves room for people to be people and do what people do - make mistakes. He's not saying that you have to be perfect to achieve these things and reach these places, he's saying the total opposite, in fact. And I appreciate people, particularly artists, who don't just bark instructions and, instead, acknowledge, deal with, appreciate and even celebrate the intrinsically flawed nature of mankind. And I should also mention 'Babylon', which is another sterling offering near the head of "My Journey". 

"Tell dem a wi seh 'lightning pon scissors and comb'
So how wi fi frighten fi Rome?
The Most High, Emperor, dun sit up on di throne
So how wi frighten fi clone?
Wi no do weh Rome do -
That's why no bore tongue, wi no bleach skin
The Most High correct dem breaching
Sword pon mi side, so any bwoy that diss thing, di judgment ahgo reach him"

"A ready, yow wi ready fi di battlefield - wi dun talk!
Cause in Rome, there's no peace, no comfort
Jah warriors, dem just come fast
This a serious thing, so no come laugh
Wi have no more time fi waste
Ithiopia is the place!
Tell babylon fi fly di gate
Jah Jah guide wi straight!"

BOOM! The tune is one which kind of surprised me and really set the tone for the quality of this album in a way. Certain tunes, of course, rise to the top, but even being a level or two below that (not saying this song is, because it is not), doesn't mean much. It's a POWERFUL release from beginning to end.

'Love You Like I Do'

The first single from "My Journey" dropped late last year in the form of the lovely 'Love You Like I Do'. This piece, perfectly, exemplifies what I meant when I said that this album was very "open". It is a dazzling and cool love song and one which, despite its sound, doesn't really take this album very far in a different direction and, instead, wonderfully just builds another dimension of colour for it. Similarly is the song which follows 'Love You Like I Do', the even better 'I Will Be There'. I couldn't call this song a 'love song', even though it kind of has that vibe. What I received from this song was that Octane was stressing the importance of being dependable in life. It is great to be able to depend on people you love and in the track's latter stages it goes further in that course, but I think what he was doing was to make the point of how nice it is for others to be able to depend on you when they need to. The album's obligatory mama song, 'Mama', is a golden one. No other genre of music comes even distantly close to Reggae music in terms of celebrating the most wonderful Woman in the world and this tune is probably one of the best of its kind that I've heard in some time, which is saying something substantial. I-Octane returns to painting with silver linings under dark clouds on the infectious social commentary 'Pressure'. The PRESENTATION of this song is so damn compelling because, on one hand, you can definitely describe it as being somewhat bleak and gloomy, but "bleak" and "gloomy" are difficult (if not full on impossible) to do on a riddim like that. Much easier is it to inspire and that's the message here - that pressures and stress are going to exist, they are a large part of life, but there is no reason that one or any combination of them should stop you. 

"Dem seh war, but a nah dat wi ah preach
Wi have a goal and a dat wi a reach
Just di truth wi ah practice a straight
Mount Zion, dat wi a seek
I praise The One who govern the glow -
Jah soldiers a whoa - on to Zion wi go"

The pulsing 'Jah Jah Warrior' is another definitive highlight on "My Journey". This song is MASSIVE as it is both highly entertaining and carries a crucial message which is not to be missed. I was very happy to hear a bit more in the way of familiar material on the album and, as it nears its end, we get a very nice trio of selections which more attentive fans are likely to appreciate. The first, and likely biggest, of them is 'My Story', which was a divine piece from a year or two ago. This pillar of a social commentary was sensational in its time and it hasn't lost much lustre, if any, these days. There's also the big 'Blood Ago Run', which is another social commentary, this one dealing more specifically with themes of anti-violence. Definitely tune in to the lyrics on this one (more on that in a minute) and focus on what is being said. On the surface, as well, its very powerful, but this just may be one of the strongest written pieces Octane has ever pushed. The very clever 'Jah Jah Mission' was the artist's cut of Frass' still fresh Diamonds & Gold Riddim from just last year and is a mighty contribution to this album, which may just give it a much deserved second wind of sorts. It links the tangible with the spiritual and does so, almost strictly, in the name of love which makes for a very fascinating listen and truly special tune. And though it's new (at least to my ears), also be sure to check the album's closer, 'Burn It', the album's subtly infectious obligatory ganja song. There isn't much here to explain, you already know the direction of this one, but don't overlook it, because it is a joy to listen to.

'My Story'

And finally, big credit goes to DJ Frass, I-Octane and whoever else was responsible for following this course which made it possible for three very familiar faces to make appearances on this journey. The first is German superstar, Gentleman, who makes his presence known on the stellar 'It's Alright'. Gentleman, himself, has always been someone conscious of working alongside big names (he's made music with almost everyone of note during his career) and the two are blessed with Frass' very recent Cane River Riddim, so it comes to no surprise at all that the results are downright magical. 

"Nuff a dem ah come up and ah run up dem mouth -
But guess what - it's alright
And nuff a dem ah come up and ah push up dem snot
But guess what - it's alright
Even when dem call mi name from way down di lane
It's alright
Mi know that Jah shine di sun and a HIM fall di rain
It's alright

I no listen to what Pagans haffi seh
Dem sight up di evil weh dem orchestrate
Waan box di food from di natty plate
So dem no waan si wi rise
Tell yuh bout di pestilence weh walk inna night
Dem ah work fi rejoice
Neva speak di truth yet
Cause dem heart fulla lies

Nuff a dem ah come up and ah run up dem mouth -
But guess what - it's alright
And nuff a dem ah come up and ah push up dem snot
But guess what - it's alright
Even when dem call mi name from way down di lane
It's alright
Mi know that Jah shine di sun and a HIM fall di rain
It's alright

Wi tell yuh from di beginning, wi tell yuh from di start
If wi neva positive, dem wouldn’t have nuttin fi talk
Wi tell dem fi genuine, wi tell dem fi be smart
If that wasn't enough, wi show where fi walk
Wi tell dem fi clean up dem livity
Tell dem love should be the first priority
And stop indulge in animosity"

BOOM! The most surprising appearance is on 'A Yah Wi Deh', which actually features Octane alongside Ky-Mani Marley. Marley's recording schedule is erratic to say the least, but if you pay attention to him, you'll notice that nearly every time someone convinces him to record a song, he does very, very well. This tune is not the recent exception to that. I like the edge here, in its absence, the album was missing it and the fiery combination well fills the void. And lastly, 'Lighters Up' for Alaine who also joins on "My Journey". The Groovy Soca-ish is just a HAPPY vibes, but one with substance where the duo pushes an idea for everyone to 'shine your lighters' and make your positive contribution to the world. Whatever you can do, do it to make people happy and make the world a better one. I-Octane, for example, makes big albums and hopefully Alaine can join him later this year (for the first time in 1928).
Overall, I do want to mention just how finely crafted this album is. As I said, it is clearly a better album than "Crying For The Nation" and I don't often make distinctions like that from such an early stage in the new album (especially not when both were at least very good), but it just is a wholly better record in my opinion. What has clearly improved apart from the changes in sound (which isn't necessarily an improvement, as much as it is a natural change) is I-Octane, himself. HE IS BETTER AT MAKING MUSIC. And that sounds odd to say because the first album isn't half a decade old, but in that short time, he's improved. He writes better lyrics, His delivery is more diverse and he is simply capable of doing more things these days. That's remarkable and as I alluded to, I don't think he's gotten to his final musical destination just yet. I think he still has quite a far way to go. If he does, somehow, find a way to go much further than "My Journey" [he'll likely do it again with DJ Frass] then in I-Octane we may have found someone who, despite being amongst the most celebrated and respected figures in Reggae music of the current era, may be deserving of even more attention. OUTSTANDING!

Rated: 4.85/5
Tad's Records
CD + Digital

Review #496

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