Friday, March 7, 2014

Rewind!: "Beauty For Ashes" by Midnite

"Beauty For Ashes" by Midnite [I Grade Records]
We weren't finished. There was more. Today we go back and take a look at an album which, despite how rare it is that one of these releases generates this much attention, may've already outperformed its pre-release interest. With good reason (there just isn't that much anticipation to go around), you won't find many albums located within the overweight catalogue of Midnite which have received as much pre-release notice as 'their' most recent project. The album was presented in a fine way, via the wonderful people at I Grade Records, and, at least from the feedback that we've gotten, it seems as if more than the heavily devout Midnite head (who massively anticipate all of them) have paid attention. Even more interesting than that, however, is the fact that when we actually got to listen to the album… it was even better than we thought it was going to be. It deserved MORE attention and a lot more. So here's more. Up now is a guarantee for one of the best albums of 2014 and one of the best Midnite albums of all time as we Rewind! "Beauty For Ashes"

1. 'A Reminder'

Next to the album's first single and its track #2, I've probably listened to the opener, 'A Reminder' more than any other song on the entire album and with good reason. For every ultra-slow and downright skeletal Midnite song that you've ever heard and been dismissive of, 'A Reminder' (and several songs on this album) is their collective complete antithesis… but you won't know just how vibrant a composition it is unless you fully give it the attention that it is due. As for the message here, I'm still working on that as Vaughn Benjamin takes his listeners on a trip from the spiritual, straight to the biological level ["12 strands inna the DNA-gast"], but where I am now is hearing this tune as one where Benjamin is pointing out characteristics of the existence of The Almighty. Everywhere he looks he sees His Majesty and all of these traits and qualities are 'reminders' of HIM. Ask me in a year and I might have a different view, but I'll still be of the opinion that this song was MAMMOTH!

2. 'When Jah Arise' featuring Lutan Fyah

"From The East, to The West
To The North, to The South
When Rastafari redemption riddim come
With authentic override
Stimulates righteous vibrates alive
Resistance to wrong: Right to strive
Over-stimulation: Overdrive"

TEARS! "People can feel it all around". BOOM! 'When Jah Arise' is the song which I expected to be the leader from the "Beauty For Ashes" album initially and though I ultimately gave that distinction to another song, this tune is focusing for me and I'm hearing streams and channels of just GORGEOUS music and I hear again what I must have heard early on. I can attempt to put it in place on "Beauty For Ashes", but be it #1 or something else, 'When Jah Arise', easily is one of the best Midnite songs that I've ever heard and that's saying a lot.

3. 'Same Boat We'

"Is these kind of things to be careful with
Rasta seen countenance fall and broken spirit
Just uplift out of it how Jah create a insist
And the legislative whip was the laws of uplift
Dem psychology trigger nerve and how dem touch it
Personal responsibility to each human unit of livity
That mean every simple one inna I-manity
The ebb and the flow, the give and take of living, moving currency
King Selassie I speak out against isolationist policy
And play a part inna how things run inna fi dem community
Situation where none can shut up loyalty
Gonna do the best they can to enhance the country
And some of them will face the sun
Some of them with tenacity

In the same boat we!
In the same boat we!
Let's try to see - in the same boat we"

Given its peculiar sound, I was definitely looking forward to taking another listen to 'Same Boat We'… hold on, excuse me for a minute:

"When they ask about logistics - 
Then it's budgetary transgression admit how di picture on the wall lopsided is
Jah know nothing no straight yet
If it reach pothole and sidewalk and kitchen sink
Where the country can partake in its resources
Without all kinda deviate and off-track and synch -
Brinksmanship ah play out fi all fi see and take in 
Upraising the standard of living 
And the part that each one plays in it
When all man deh a Abuja inna clinic
Strategizing minutia down to specifics
Sisters inna boardroom inna business -
Micromanaging revenues which are gigantic"

DAMN! I came back listening for a certain sound which gets full on hypnotic the more you listen to 'Same Boat We', but what I found, going back, was a torrential stream of lyrics. Probably the best written song on the whole of "Beauty For Ashes". 

4. 'Beauty For Ashes'

The album's title track was not exactly in a dearth of quality sound. I went back and heard this tune in an opposite way from its predecessor. This riddim is just somewhere else. You pick up so many delightful and small bits and pieces and they combine to make one unforgettable showcase of music. Like many of the tunes here, 'Beauty For Ashes' has this concept of unity hovering over it where Benjamin says that so good things are ready to occur and it is the responsibility of all to see them through to fruition.

5. 'Betterment Mouth'

Benjamin urges all to seek higher standards on another of the album's biggest standouts, 'Betterment Mouth'. From the first time I heard this song, one of its most glaring and powerful traits was its expansion and development. It goes through so many different moods and progressions that, despite being one of the shorter songs on the album, by its end 'Betterment Mouth' leaves a song sounding at least twice as long as it is. A WONDERFUL SONG! 

"Worldwide corruption mek dem arm di gates
From tenement yard to heads of states
Dem have dem gun and mobs in battlefield ways
Meanwhile simultaneous, in the same place
If ever be showed to the wicked it will not change

Babylon set di table and full up di plate
All nation participate inna Earth but way -
How things of early come down of late?
How di same issues ah dominate?
Who build di system inna Jerusalem place?
Biggup di original, no pontificate"

6. 'Same I Ah One' featuring Pressure

Seeking balance! There's not much more to be said in this case. ‘Same I Ah One' was chosen as the album's first tune and, thus, one of its signatures and it doesn't even take the whole of a full listen to know why. "It's a cold world, but the whole world haffi witness Afrika redemption!" BOOM! 

7. 'Holy Mountain'

Something about 'Holy Mountain' kind of strikes me now as a tune from I Grade's past. I don't know what it is, exactly, but it has the sound of a song from a decade or so ago. Of course I'm not complaining (and if this is an example of such a tune, then maybe we should come up with a time machine and make ALL music in that timeframe), the results are golden, but in this case and maybe even more than any other song on "Beauty For Ashes", this song requires you to dig and dig deeper for comprehension and appreciation. And I've said previously that one of the things that I enjoy most in regards to listening to Midnite's music is that it is a journey. Vaughn Benjamin makes you work - probably as hard as he worked to make the song. These days, while it was always clear that the heart of this song was a spiritual and praising composition, what I've added to it is the notion that the chanter is somewhat disgusted and disappointed with certain aspects of the world because he knows that not only does 'better' (and 'BETTER' as a guarantee, not as a prospect) exist, but it's also reachable. But I'm still working on this one and I can't even see that 'finish' line. 

8. 'Generation Again'

"When they're just beginning to face what the belly of the beast have to deal with
Demoralization from the womb and the crib
Hail Ithiopia's Kings
Haile Ithiopia's I-lect I ah sing

A visual cortex image
When the groove ride out strong like that
A squash, a gourd, a canteen
A horse, and a crocus backpack
What man advanced in?
A shuttle, sky bus, what -
They ah from upon horseback
They know it's the same one that experienced retrogressed-throwback
Let I and I go forward
Processional cycles of dimension, non-stop in the gap
You see the rising when the setting was what?

I liked 'Generation Again’ when I first heard it but, in even this short period of time, it's moved so far ahead of the already high level that I rated it at. This song is just brilliant as what we find is Benjamin time traveling with the spoken word, but not really moving at all. He draws so many shining comparisons between today's world and that of years and years ["THEY KNOW IT'S THE SAME ONE THAT EXPERIENCED RETROGRESSED-THROWBACK"], to seemingly say, that lessons learned thousands of years ago, are still lessons to be learned now.

9. 'All i's On You'

I said brilliant? The mix of a scientific appropriated level of genius and a riddim which subtly just took over my mind (if you can do such a thing "subtly"), helped make the MASSIVE 'All i's On You' my favourite song on "Beauty For Ashes" and it's what is currently keeping it there as well. EVERYTHING about this song fit in itself nearly perfectly and it takes more than itself with it, but it stands as one of the songs here which're destined to become personal classics for me as the artist, once again, deals with the concept of progressing time.

10. 'Weather The Storm' featuring Ras Batch

If making fifty albums doesn't prove that you can 'weather the storm' (then I don't know what kind of storm you're facing, but you need to stop reading this and start running!) then maybe this SWEET tune which features Vaughn Benjamin alongside the incomparable Ras Batch can take care of that. This tune is about the lasting presence of His Imperial Majesty and I take it as an example and not one which is a declaration of what was happened. Instead the thought is that THIS is what we all should aspire to and not just stand in witness of. And I also should mention that the song which is north of six minutes in length could have just kept going as an instrumental at its end.

11. 'Tried and Tested'

Wonderfully, 'Tried and Tested' continues to build on the ideology of 'Weather The Storm'. This song kind of flew beneath my own radar initially (and this is why we do features like this, for that exact reason), but I LOVE the message that I hear in it. What I get is the BEGINNING of maintaining oneself and persevering. You have to do something. You have to make your way and earn your respect then you 'weather the storm'.

12. 'Hold On'

"No matter how seemingly negative the times
In this moment alive
Means time is on your side
Make the most and try
This one moment in time
Locking eye-to-eye
Becomes immortalized
It's nostalgia by tomorrow time
Was it about loving life?
Was it about well shared time?
Did you get some clarified?
Some affirmation times

Orange papaya, blue sky, gold sunlight
Brewing penicillin in the backyard firelight
Plan a trip to see it in the urban high rise
What Jah has permitted in the seek-and-find"

The very peaceful 'Hold On' is one which I originally referred to as a 'love song' of sorts. And that's what it is. It doesn't follow that phrase in the stereotypical way in which I'd use it in some romantic type of vibes (Benjamin just doesn't do that and I don't think that he could if he tried to - at least not in any straight forward manner), but it is a song about the love of the life you lead and the APPRECIATION OF THE MOMENT ["CAPTURE THE MOMENT!"] [Biggup NiyoRah]. It really is a very fascinating song. From its curious composition to its light delivery - it may not be a hit and may ultimately be overlooked on this album, but if you follow it through, you know that this song DEMANDS attention.

13. 'A Healing'

And lastly, 'A Healing' is one of the best songs on "Beauty For Ashes" and that hasn't changed at all. Or maybe it has a bit. I do now have a healthier appreciation for a song which I already loved. I think that Benjamin, himself, really sums it up better than I can when he says:


That's what this song is about. It's about helping someone within the human experience. And this help can come in a literally infinite amount of different ways. And I really enjoy how he stresses the simple (and therefore more doable) ways that you can offer someone help: 

"Kind words and good emanation frequency -
Proven most beneficial inna medically
It can bring down the tone so not to riot, stampede

Here he's just talking about saying something nice to someone and the good that it can do even in very serious situations. You don't have to be a medical doctor to do that and it requires virtually NO effort at all.

So, if you've made a mistake and you did not pick up the latest Midnite/I Grade Records link, "Beauty For Ashes". I have some "kind words" for you. It isn't too late, you can take care of that right now.

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