Friday, August 22, 2014

'But Not TOO Different': A review of "Differentology" by Bunji Garlin

Activation. It seems as if, throughout the years, Dancehall music has settled into a pattern in terms of sending songs and stars towards mainstream success. It has even become a revolving and evolving question in the genre as to who is next to receive the brightest spotlight only reserved for some of the biggest name in music altogether. This is the case despite the fact that Dancehall has definitely undergone some changes through the years and, these days, does not do a very good job of promoting itself outwardly (what is out comes in, instead). Yet, in spite of the Dancehall's proneness of futility, as I said, it is always only a matter of time before the next scheduled 'bit hit' reaches the masses. The same, however, certainly cannot be said when it comes to Dancehall's really, really attractive younger sister, Soca. Soca music is on a schedule of its on and, inwardly (meaning to already-fans of the genre), probably does an even stronger job of promoting itself than does Dancehall (after Aidonia, Busy Signal and Mavado came to prominence, Dancehall music has seemed to get really messy and cluttered) (or maybe I just got really old and crazy) but it stops there. Soca has attained neither the type of lasting mainstream respect that Dancehall still enjoys, which is fine and fair, nor the number of outward surges, which is… un-fine and unfair. Why???! Soca music, in my opinion, has a 'built-in' audience and I do not know why that level of success has been almost exclusively reserved for the likes of Kevin Lyttle, Alison Hinds and Rupee when, each and every season, you have more than a handful of Soca songs which could, seemingly, do a major damage if exposed to more a more of a Pop music audience. Names like Destra, Patrice Roberts, Hinds and a GIANT line of others provide songs annually which, at least in my opinion, could make a certain leap towards receiving a mainstream shine. And, again, though I would not place it in the category of Dancehall as far as maintaining a particular level of inevitability, I have definitely been expecting and anticipating Soca music to make that push again and, hopefully, this time get a little comfortable and begin to receive the global level of attention that it deserves for being… the type of addicting and unshakable DRUG FOR YOUR EARS AND FEET that it is. The only question was who would be the next to bridge that gap. If not Destra, Roberts or Hinds - then maybe Machel Montano, arguably the genre's biggest star. Maybe Zan, Farmer Nappy, Achis Reggae favourite Jalena (an always interesting case), Rupee or maybe, just maybe, someone might stumble upon a picture of Fay-Ann Lyons and realize that people who look like that deserve MAINSTREAM attention.  
Maybe even Bunji Garlin! WHAT! No way. That's ridiculous. Though one of Soca's greatest showmen (which is saying a lot), the genre's reigning lyrical king has made more of his strides towards Dancehall where his ability to pretty much do absolutely anything lyrically has certainly not gone unnoticed throughout the years and he's worked alongside some of the biggest names in production that the Dancehall has to offer. Furthermore, Garlin has also attracted the attention of VP Records. The biggest label in the world for Reggae and Dancehall has shown a full interest in Bunji Garlin's abilities dating back to 2002's Reggae-fied "Revelation" set (which was not a good album), and even prior to that, he had appeared on compilations such as both the 2000 and 2006 editions of their "Soca Gold" series, respectively.  And half a decade following "Revelation" was the far better "Global" and those two albums, until very recently, remained Garlin's most accessible releases to date (I actually own a copy of his debut album, the downright vanished "The Chronicles", which is definitely amongst one of the coolest albums in my collection). But still, again, Bunji's style is a lyrical one and quite heavy when at his best, he seemed to be headed for a future which would place him as one of the greatest champions of Soca music ever (defending it and its achievements at any opportunity and against any challenger) (even against lava) and a full pioneer for his work, but one which would not include a whole heap of mainstream success. 

And then things got different. Over the course of a career spanning more than a decade and a half, I cannot remember hearing Garlin ever have a song that had as much 'potential' as he showed back in 2012 with the release of his ELECTRIC 'Differentology'. He's had better songs and songs which I've enjoyed more (even one from that same season, initially), but I do not think that 'Fiery', 'No Super Hero', 'Snake Oil', 'Doh Play With Me' and any of my other favourites over the years had the potential to go global like 'Differentology' could and subsequently did providing not only Garlin (ever), but Soca music in its entirety, with one of its biggest hits to date and its single biggest and most recognizable in years. Unsurprisingly, the song would also lead to a reconnection between Bunji Garlin and VP Records for the first time in seven years (the label would go even further, fortunately, and sign up Mrs. Bunji Garlin as well, the aforementioned Fay-Ann Lyons). Far more shocking was that major label, RCA Records, would also take an interest in the power of Garlin's science of difference and they would also place their name behind the tune and, eventually, the full album which now comes to fruition. Though I believe the press release counts this as his ninth set, by my count "Differentology", becomes the tenth Bunji Garlin album to date (his first from 2012's outstanding "iSpaniard" set) ("iSpaniard" is either my favourite Garlin album or it ties with "Flame Storm") and, without a doubt, his most popular and eagerly anticipated. These albums, at least in terms of Dancehall music, have always been strange at best. When you include the participation of major labels they, obviously, want music and names that their audiences will be familiar with and we’ve seen examples of albums which have amounted to castration of genres in the name of being more accessible. As I said, however, Soca is a genre which I don't think needs very much in the way of changes in order to make it more friendly to wider audiences. So, is what we have here just kind of a package of fluff in order to test the reach of a popular song or is it actually a very good album which fans, new and old alike, are going to appreciate? Let's find out.
As usual, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Along with the looming spectre of an album modified for Britney Spears heads (or at least that would be the attempt) another point of interest here was that the album's main-attraction was nearly two years old. Typically in Soca music albums are released to coincide with Carnival seasons and the likes of Machel Montano, Destra and others, essentially, compile their music from any year and release it as an album. Because of the 'schedule' that Soca music is on, this has worked out for the best for years and is extremely convenient. But in this case the big song on this album was a big song from its birth and you now have an album built around a very 'seasoned' hit which should not be a concern of new fans, but probably is for more experienced ones (… who will likely buy the album anyway) (so much for my point). Bunji Garlin's full brand of "Differentology" certainly does get off to a fantastic start however, with the piercing 'Red Light District'. While not as heavy as Garlin's typical output, 'Red Light District' is a fantastic song to begin this album with because, despite the fact that better material does await, you'll go through all of that and still not be able to successfully rid your head of this mightily infectious tune. A sterling example of "better material" does come in the form of the second song on the album, the truly ridiculous 'Carnival Tabanca'. I do love when big hits are accompanied by hits from a particular individual and the title track of this album has had 'Carnival Tabanca' which has also developed into one of Garlin's biggest hits in recent times and also represents a softer deviation from his normal fiery approach. Unsurprisingly, the song is also offered in a remixed version, the Viking Remix, later on in the song which is kind of Techno and Electric which, I believe, is the direction RCA wanted to market this album in somewhat. The moody mix is certainly far too much for me but I'd imagine fans of those genres would surely think otherwise. And you also have 'Savage' whose presence on this album does not come as a shock either. This song was decent and although not a favourite of mine, it fits perfectly into the more 'bright' type of vibes you would expect to be presented on an album like this and I would well anticipate newer fans to gravitate towards it and with good reason. 

Though well traveled and downright weary, the finest composition to be found on "Differentology", with respect to 'Carnival Tabanca', remains the tune which it is named after. 'Differentology' is one of the best songs I've ever heard in my entire absentminded existence and it will take a lot longer than a couple of years to spoil it or its glowing remix by the masterminds of Major Lazer which also appears on this album. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for 'Truck On D Road', a song which I love in its original form (which does not appear on this album) but absolutely do not in the remixed version (which does). This song features US rapper Asap Ferg who I don't think appreciated the type of song this was. That is coming from someone who is not a Hip-Hop fan and has not been for a very long time, so you may actually enjoy that remix as well, but if you have not heard the original, it isn't difficult to find at all. Garlin, himself, also tries his hand at Hip-Hop with 'West Indian Jungle'. Though somewhat 'bulky', particularly when compared to the selections surrounding it on this album, the tune is a brief glimpse into Bunji Garlin's capabilities with the spoken word. He's considerably better than what you ultimately do hear on this song but it is at least on the path of what he can do, Incidentally, if you do like the vibes of this song, definitely check 'The King's Arrival' which was much better in my opinion. A step further along on that same path would be Garlin's cut of the Stag Riddim from 1st Klase Productions, 'Touchless'. This is an amazing effort and clearly amongst the very best to be found on "Differentology".
I was really happy to see all four of the final songs on "Differentology" as, in my opinion, the provide the album with a proper 'body'. Though they may go overlooked in the name of more flashy and immediately striking songs, they all represent, collectively, a reason to be excited about this album and evidence that someone was paying attention. The first of these, 'All O'Dem' is one of the most FUN songs that I've heard from Garlin recently. There's no pressure. No one is setting anything on fire and you don't even have to jump and wave a damn thing if you don't feel like it. It's very relaxed and infectious and flexible and just a fine Groovy Soca song. The same (all of it) can be said of 'Stages' (biggup Blazer) (…I return to writing this review TWENTY MINUTES later after listening to Blazer's 'Stages' over and over and over again) which is another very cool vibes, with just a bit more in the way of intensity here. 'Stages' actually does have slightly further concerns as it is a song speaking on the virtues of music, in general, and Soca, especially. As I mentioned, Bunji Garlin has spent the majority of his entire career as someone who not only performs Soca music but someone who is quick to stand up for it (like when someone calls it Devil's music, for example). This one doesn't quite find him on the defence or the attack but he does well and correctly outline just a few of the endless joys of this wonderful sound during 'Stages'.

"A life of rhyme
No life of crime
We do the music for you to wine
From home to studio mi spend meh time -
To give the music - so fine
Well anytime that I'm feeling down 
And di situation look brown

Things continue on similarly with 'Over The Hills' which, at least for me, is the feeling I have surrounding this entire album and project. This song came originally a year or two ago but I feel that the nature of it is so very fitting for an album like this. And, hopefully, it does some damage, at least as far as furthering, on a larger scale, Bunji Garlin's commitment not only to his own career and craft but to the art form, in full, of Soca music and fully embracing that aspect of his talents. As much as Garlin is this lyrical powerhouse and electric showman, he's also, essentially, the security in the club of Soca and, as he has shown in the past, if you disrespect the house, he will show you to the door.

 "So when they watch me like the scourge of Soca
And try to treat me like the purge of Soca
I penetrate the nerve of Soca
I preserve the spoken words inna Soca
When they watch me like the pain of Soca
And fraid of me like I is di Bane of Soca
Like I poison in di vein of Soca
I stimulate all di brains inna Soca
Because - I wanna see this music rise, rise, rise
I wanna see Soca music flying with the eagle in the sky!"

Lastly is the perfectly chaotic 'Gi Dem Dey'. Although you might be able to question its positioning on the album (it probably should have been the first of the final four and not the last), its quality is not up for debate and it does give "Differentology" a much needed final power-surge in a more typically Garlin-esque manner.
Overall, this is definitely an easy album to over analyze for its quality but I won't. I could probably come up with ten or so songs that I would have liked to see present here, but for what it is, "Differentology" is a good effort and a solid result. I would have most liked to see Fay-Ann Lyons involved in some way and the fact that she was not did come as a surprise (particularly with VP's presumed intentions) but this album is far, FAR better than we've seen from some of the full-on horror shows which similar sets of circumstance have presented in the past. Ultimately, I think that an album like this serves best to attract new PASSIONATE fans who may have never heard either Bunji Garlin's music or Soca music at all. Those who are likely to 'stick around' for his eleventh album and for Lyons' first, I believe, are the best marks for an album like this one. Is "Differentology" good enough to produce MANY of those??? I think it is. The album may be a bit strange, and you knew that it would be, but for what it is, Bunji Garlin and his full 'study' now sits as one of the most important and visible moments in the very curious history of Soca music. 

Rated: 3.65/5
VP Records/RCA Records
CD + Digital

Review #524 

No comments:

Post a Comment