Tuesday, April 15, 2014

'So Nice!': A review of "The Sound" by Pressure

Logics. In the name of wanting to do a 'better' or more complete job of it, such things are obviously best left to history, but as you look across the landscape of Reggae music today, there're quite a few different artists who, even if they stopped making music today have had already GREAT careers. And we can exclude from this lot the Capletons, Sizzlas, Bounty Killers etc. of the world who have arrived at the point where they now have peers who have grown up listening to their music and have been greatly inspired by them (and wanted to be them when they grew up) and they're still around, remarkably. That's surely something that fans decades from now will look back at and honour, just as we do now. What I'm talking about are certain individuals who, though you may not see it as clearly as in those fully celebrated cases, have already amassed such powerful musical works and credits to their name which has resonated with fans in a major way, to the level where the significance of their contributions cannot be overlooked. Obviously, what lead me down this line of  thought was thinking about the work of Virgin Islands superstar, Pressure Busspipe. RIGHT NOW -- if the man stopped writing and never made another song (I'd be sad) ever -- you'd still have to say that what he has managed to do has been a mighty career! And, despite still being relatively young, his achievements are locked in and the only thing, seemingly, missing is the magnitude of a catalogue which is only offered by more time but, even in the absence of that, he's done amazing things thus far. Along with being the first VI artist to drop that all-conquering, global Reggae hit in 'Love & Affection' a few years back, Pressure has gone on to become a virtual 'household name' in Reggae music and has worked with a staggeringly impressive line of other artists, producers and musicians. On top of all of that, if you really pay attention to his work, you've surely noticed something over the past couple of years or so and that is the fact that Pressure seems to be hitting his musical prime. Nearly everything he has brought forth over that period has, collectively, represented some of the best material of his career and I am fully expecting, a decade from now or so, to see youths coming up from out of the VI (and elsewhere) listing Pressure's name as one of their greatest sources of musical inspiration. Like I said - already a great career. But now that I think about it, if Pressure actually were to have stopped recording, there would be something missing.  
The music of Pressure
…they call it I Grade. Pressure has had the opportunity to work alongside some of the finest producers in the entire genre of Reggae music and deservedly so. If you focus on just his albums it is glaring just how well it has worked for him. His debut album, "The Pressure Is On" (which, in my opinion, is STILL the greatest Reggae debut album of the modern era) was produced by the venerable Dean Pond (and Eno Stafford) as was his third album, 2010's sublime "Coming Back For Your". Pond is a producer who may not get as much attention as some of his peers from the Virgin Islands, but in playing large roles in developing the talents of Pressure, Army, Revalation and others, his talents are also not to be overlooked. Between albums one and three was "Love & Affection", which was produced by Don Corleon who is one of the greatest producers of all time. Furthermore, though we focus on album #4 today, Pressure's presumed fifth release, "Africa Redemption", is produced by another great maestro in Baby G. That lineup is amazing and today it gets amazing-er. As one of the most talented and popular artists from out of the Virgin Islands, one would think that Pressure's course would lead him in the direction of the region's biggest label and it has throughout the years, but things get FULL now as Pressure Busspipe meets I Grade Records
Despite the fact that it took awhile for us to get 'here', it's probably the best time. Pressure isn't the only one who may be priming. These days Laurent 'Tippy I' Alfred and company at I Grade Records can lay a significant claim to currently be making THE best music in the entire genre. Most recently it was evident on the MAMMOTH "Beauty For Ashes" album from Midnite, but the label has been scalding in recent years and, along with the Zion I Kings collective, they have presented arguably the most fertile source of great Reggae music recently. And the two have a healthy history. Though it would take until 2014 for a full album to arrive, Pressure and IGR definitely have a history, which goes back more than a decade. Eleven years ago the chanter appeared on the "Geoman" album which was a Midnite Branch I project, released by I Grade Records. The following year, he would make appearances on two official I Grade sets, "Let Live" by Midnite [aka "The Album With 'The Gad' On It"] and, "One Atonement" by Yahadanai [aka "Simply One of The Greatest Albums of All Time"] and through the years he's also made appearances on various projects IGR has done, such as NiyoRah's opus, "Purification Session", the MAMMOTH "Joyful Noise", the previously mentioned "Beauty For Ashes" and even "Jah Golden Throne" from Zion High Productions [biggup ZHP, new album from Ziggi Recado, coming soon) and the Zion I Kings. Essentially, Pressure has been a staple on IGR's releases and things that they've been involved in over the years, which definitely is not surprising, but they've never managed to line things up and do a full album together. But things change, fortunately, and a great change is up today as Pressure Busspipe unleashes "The Sound" with I Grade Records. As has been their way, the promotion behind this album from IGR has been exquisite. Going back to last year, if I recall correctly, not too far away from the release of the Songbird Riddim ["When I hear the songbirds, I think of you!"] (biggup Danny I), there were rumours of upcoming albums from Midnite, Lutan Fyah and Pressure and actual music from this album (besides the tune from the Songbird, which is also included) would jump up before the end of October, 2013. And, as I mentioned, not only did Pressure feature on Midnite's "Beauty For Ashes", but he was on THE signature tune from that album, ‘Same I Ah One'. So, having been through all of that, musically, definitely an album was the next logical step and Common Sense demanded a Pressure/I Grade Records link and common sense is about to damn pleased with what she hears… because you know Common Sense is a female.

Perhaps I was a bit too quick in re-crowning the wonderful artiste, Ras Elijah Tafari, for his amazing work on the album cover of Rob Symeonn's "Indigenous" album. As spectacular as it was, and it was, Tafari definitely has company because the cover of "The Sound" is also fantastic. This piece is done by a Sil Cunningham, who is apparently an extremely gifted woman from Argentina. We looked at a few of the other pieces she's done, all centering around Reggae music (including one for Earl 16), and they are all outstanding and, like I said in regards to Tafari, I love the fact that someone with her gifts uses them to highlight Reggae music. Also doing their part to underscore the amazing aspects of the best music in the world is Pressure Busspipe and I Grade Records who team up for "The Sound" which gets started with a highlight of its own, the lovely acoustic set, 'Rise Today'. The opener is a pure social commentary and a relatively straight-forward one. What I take from this one is Pressure's idea is to accept that bad things happen and have happened in the past but it is nothing that guarantees that we must continue to accept it and allow it in the world - and the thought is to "rise" from the negativity and to do it TODAY - as soon as possible. Musically, it is a fairly unique tune, however. As it progresses, 'Rise Today' kind of rises in intensity throughout. At an advanced point, the drums begin and what you ultimately end up with at song's end is something which has BLOSSOMED so powerfully from its acoustic beginnings. It is a powerful piece and a real winner on every level. The maybe even better 'Show Love' is in next and, again, it is a mighty blend of sonic appeal and lyrical substance.

"If you should ever ask the question 'what's the meaning of love'
Love is nothing to take for granted or put aside to rust
I'm gonna make good use of it now because the time ain't 'nuff

Show love, let me teach you
Show love, love is how I greet you
Show love, let me teach you
Show love, love is how I greet you

There's a problem in the world now: Everyone's for theirself
But if they were to drown, they would catch even a straw for some help
Cause your future depends on the little things that you give

Show love, let me teach you
Show love, love is how I greet you
Show love, let me teach you
Show love, love is how I greet you"

This is a song a beautiful one about being nice to people. Being friendly! Pressure does well push the issue and he should, but it comes across in a very easy, organic and unstressed way. Musically speaking, 'Show Love' is a gem and two things stand out. One is the melodica [Addis Pablo, "In My Father's House", in stores now], which Tippy plays in the latter stages and the second is the presence of the incomparable Tuff Lion who lends a hand on this track, the first of a few he works on. Next is the album's second single and most recognizable selection, 'Virgin Islands Nice'. When I first heard this song (which was partially recorded by Dean Pond), it made me smile and I'm still smiling! PRIDE is definitely one of the main tenets of Roots Reggae music and this song is loaded with pride as Pressure talks about the many things to love about his homeland. He even mentions one of my favourite athletes, the great Julian Jackson (one of the hardest punchers in boxing history), who makes an appearance in the video for the track as well (there was also an old Virgin Islands boxer named Peter Jackson in the late 1800's, who I believe Julian is related to).

'Virgin Islands Nice'

Something that I'm very much now looking forward to in regards to every release from I Grade Records are the featuring artist who appear on an album. "Beauty For Ashes" was very impressive in that aspect, but when I saw who was up for "The Sound", it was something even more remarkable. The great Vaughn Benjamin does return the favour Pressure paid on 'Same I Ah One', with 'Nothing No Wrong'. This tune is one which may take a minute to grab you, but when it does it does not let you go. This is a composition praising positive works. Whatever it is, big or small, that makes a contribution to the world and makes you happy - nothing is wrong with that. Keep it up. Of course Benjamin's presence on a song changes things and the genius goes about things in his typical style, continuing a wonderful stretch of his own and another in making big tunes with Pressure which, as I said, dates back quite awhile. The stirring 'Cry For Humanity' is a double dose of really big names, this one tapping Ras Batch and fellow Star Lion Family alum, NiyoRah. As you KNOW in your head, the trio put on a display which is among the very best on this giant album. 

"Dash di fyah pon dem pon a daily basis
Turn up the temperature, no need for oasis
We are triumphant - we come conquer hatred
Straight up, face-to-face, a di way dem fi face this"

"You diss mi nation, you get a permanent facelift
No bodda disturb mi culture and try erase it
Ras Batch and NiyoRah take you back to basics
Make you know King Selassie I is the greatest!"

"Babylon risking for predicting
Brother or Sistren
Nah live inna dem world of sin"

BOOM! Batch and NiyoRah are rather constant musical partners, they teamed up for 'Trees', a tune from Batch's own album for I Grade Records in 2012 and they also had a tune with Danny I on the "Joyful Noise" compilation. The results they produce are always top notch but they're intensified even more now with Pressure on board this big, big tune. Definitely the most surprising name featured on "The Sound” is Cruzan chanter, Volcano, who gets grimy on the album's blazing ganja tune, 'Herbsman Town'.

"Any day, mi ready fi go march -
When mi light that ganja spliff weh bigger than torch
Frontline ah bun it all when some boy ah parch
Strictly marijuana inna mi head at all times
Ganja stop di people dem from commit all crimes
Si mi wid a ton load and it is all mine
Babylon fi stop corrupt the youths dem mind"

"Clear di way and mek mi bust through di passage
Some boy ah fight di italist and ah nyam pure sausage
Gal know fi deal wid di ganja more passive
Wah mek dem know fi help di earth fi educate di massive
Mi name Lava so di fyah haffi blaze
To how mi spliff so big, it make a tourist amazed
Di weed ah put mi inna whole different phase

Grrrr! Volcano is full talented (if you want a closer look, check his own album, "Mo Fyah Chant"), but you don't hear much from him at all and I'd love to see his name on more IGR projects in the future, definitely. Unsurprisingly, my absolute favourite song on "The Sound" is the one which I was most looking forward to hearing and the album's other combination, the MASTERFUL 'Stop This Train', which features Pressure alongside Lutan Fyah.

"Stop this train, I don't wanna be here no more
Cause there's no love onboard and I know that life has so much in store
Stop this train, I don't wanna sit amongst no fool
Cause they're the ones who criticize my struggle, and ah laugh like seh everything cool

All onboard, many different faces, foreigners and natives
I don't wanna go to unfamiliar places
Let me off now, mi ain't waiting
Cause mi dun loosen mi seatbelt, stand pon mi feet
Tell di ticket officer mi have someone fi meet
Tell di train operator mi nah want nothing fi eat -
You better let mi off, mi feel like tun back
Mi no care weh none a dem a come chat
Let mi off, mi feel like tun back
Mi no care if destination seh 'Non Stop'
Too much go-go club, too much rum shack
Pure AIDS, syphilis and pure gunshot
A judgment and di place ahgo bun flat
Let mi off now!

Stop this train, I don't wanna be here no more
Cause there's no love onboard and I know that life has so much in store
Stop this train, I don't wanna sit amongst no fool
Cause they're the ones who criticize my struggle, and ah laugh like seh everything cool

This train is full of iniquity and evil
Stop this train before you try to take me too
Don't worry bout where you lef mi a road
Every move I make, I step with The Lord
No one knows how to live in one accord"

Musical credits flow for this one. Tippy, Tuff Lion, Jah David and especially increasingly familiar Balboa Becker for the horns on this tune which are as infectious a sound on the whole of "The Sound". And for their part, Lutan Fyah and Pressure amaze on a tune which is written in a metaphorical way to say that the way things are going in the world is nothing they want a part of. They just happen to do it in a way which is MAMMOTH and one of the best songs in recent times from either in my opinion which is saying a ton. BOOM!
And that's one half of the album! The other, ostensibly, is headlined by a pair of very familiar tunes, 'Run Away', the album's first official single from last year and Pressure's cut of IGR's Songbird Riddim, 'The Rain'. Both of these are excellent tunes and while it has been a minute from the last time I heard the latter, it sounds even a bit stronger these days. 'The Rain' is a lyrical GEM of a tune and 'Run Away' is a moving piece about focusing on positive things and eschewing the negative. For a similar piece to 'Run Away', well check 'Who You Are', which is a big favourite of mine from "The Sound" about, again, focusing on good things and not just things that look good. 

"When take away the bling and take away the houses and all the fancy cars -
Ask yourself who you are
Do you still see yourself as a shining star?
If I gave you all  the diamonds and give you all the gold, would still have your soul?
I don't know what you've been told
But my life won't be bought nor sold

Confusion, it ah dwell amongst the youth
Illusion steer di people far from di truth
If it glitters, that no mean seh it a gold
Mi get fi know it's all about the mind control
Description could never describe your heart
Science fiction is what they use to steer your thoughts
There's nothing wrong with having all the finer things
Just make sure you keep it real within"

The riddim on that one is also a big winner with so many different little things but the horns do strong again, so biggup Grayson Farmer in this case. The song following 'Who You Are' on the album is yet another standout for me, 'Serious About It'. This one does have a similar subject as some of the others, but what I think really differentiates 'Serious About It', from a lyrical standpoint, is Pressure's kind of edgier approach. On 'Run Away' and 'Who You Are', he's disappointed if you go in the way of flashier material things over more positive and uplifting aspects of life - here, he's kind of angry! The song stands as this call to action where he says that not everything is about looking good and playing games. And speaking of serious subjects, check 'Hail The King Of Kings' which is one of those rare tunes which goes about combining the spiritual with the tangible. It also sounds very good and the guitar on that track is a master class. The same could be said for 'Stand Firm', which may just be the second best song on this album.

"Getting ready for the liberation
Liberate yourself and educate a one
Victory comes with unification
Not until we see ourselves as Ethiopians
Paid the price without no hesitation
Sacrifice to make a better nation

My youth, stay focus
Stand firm
don't be anxious
Stand firm
Be instructed
Stand firm
Cause liberation is my only concern
My youth, be courageous
Stand firm
Be a warrior
Stand firm
Break di barrier
Stand firm
Cause liberation is my only concern 

Battlefield you caan soft like pillow
Hot like a fyah, man rugged like brillow
Ready fi go bun dem to less than a kilo
What a day when babylon city gone below
Vex, dem vex through mi no link wid dem
One thing mi know, mi nah go sink wid dem
Dem sell out di people as you blink wid dem
Ghetto youths just use your intelligence"

The heavy composition behind it, which is slightly more intense than it seems initially, really pushes this one to another place and, for his part, as he does throughout, Pressure turns in a lyrical performance not to be missed. As it was in the beginning, "The Sound" is in the end as it reaches its conclusion with the tune it is named after, another acoustically vibed piece. The song grows and grows and grows as it progresses along making for a very dynamic piece while Pressure also develops and goes on to deliver one of the best passages of the whole of the album:


And 'The Sound' brings "The Sound" to a fine, FINE conclusion.
I do have to mention, of course, the music here. It is not 'good' throughout. It is EXCEPTIONAL throughout. You go through albums and make mental notes of instrumentals that you'd like to hear (or at least I do) and I did that with every song on this album. The Zion I Kings run a Riddim Series and they could take almost any track from  "The Sound" for a future installment and I'd be happy with it.
Pressure Busspipe
Overall, BOOM! Like I said, if Pressure ended his career today (especially after this one), I don't think that calling it GREAT would be inappropriate at all and if today were the final day of December 2014, I'd be calling "The Sound" the best album of the year. It is fantastic and, given the work that both Pressure and I Grade Records have done in their respective careers, it is still some of the best that either has done to date. And, within the ultra-impressive run enjoyed by the Zion I Kings, I'm probably going to say that it is also the best album that they've done to date (with a maximum amount of respect to Ras Batch's "Know Thyself"). It is a downright royally presented set and one which does absolutely nothing but puts its star in a fantastic position to do well and Pressure does FAR better than "well". And while, fortunately, we're not dealing with the end of a great career and, instead, what we have in "The Sound" is a MASSIVE stop still likely deliciously close to the beginnings of someone who, right now, should be appreciated as one of the most talented Reggae artists in the world. A masterpiece.

Rated: 5/5
I Grade Records
CD + Digital

REVIEW #500!


  1. Amazing!
    & I still prefer Ras Batch's Know Thyself as my favorite I-Grade release. Batch has quickly become one of my all time favorite artists ever, so I'm clearly biased.

  2. I like this album while pipe has no lovers song on here really I prefer that...I think alot of artist are losing their. Edge to sell more...batch who you are and other album are better than know thy self to me...know thy self is a great album but its to classy and polished...but pressure is doing his thing and batch is one of my favorite artist as well probably next to lutan fyah...so I gave thanx for great music still..