Wednesday, March 20, 2013

'More Exploration': A review of "Signs Of Change" by Blaak Lung

Keep going. As we've talked about a few times in the past, there're so many wonderful and talented individuals who, essentially, keep the ever-evolving and ever-progressing vehicle that is Reggae music moving smoothly. These people, or at least some of them, may not exactly be household names to most of the Reggae listening world, but if they were to stop doing what they do, even momentarily or just for a very little while, their absence, whether you realized it or not, would be greatly felt. Furthermore, if you were to go a step further and just remove what they've done, in some of these cases, you may actually find it a bit more difficult to appreciate the genre, as a whole, because great contributions does not necessarily equal a very high profile, at least not when it comes to Reggae. A pair of fine and fitting examples for this particular case would definitely be Ras Batch and Tuff Lion. Just last year I found myself extremely happy for the former as he released what was definitely the most well known album of his catalogue to date, "Know Thyself" from I Grade Records. After years and years of pushing some of his own material, but way more of the work of others, the spotlight finally shined in his direction, brilliantly and he was well up to the moment and turned in one of the best albums of  the year and a likely future classic. If you were to go back and just un-exist all of that man's work, artist's whose music you LOVE (or at least you should if your ears function), such as Midnite, Mada Nile and, of course, Ras Attitude, with respect to their own great talents, loses more than a little bit of lustre. Similarly - Go back and remove what is probably the uncountable roster of participation of the incomparable Tuff Lion - and you're going to come to a point where you'll find yourself unable to enjoy almost ALL of Reggae music from the Virgin Islands as much as you once did, because the Lion's contributions have been nearly halting in both quality and quantity and they continue to be so. Someone else who fits firmly in that class and is even less well known, but has done brilliant work alongside both Ras Batch and Tuff Lion and others still, would be Blaak Lung. While the California based artist/producer/music/… probably engineer (if you want to make a Reggae song, you probably wouldn’t need much more than his services) has yet to make that solo leap forth in terms of popularity in some respects, he's already more than solidified himself as someone whose presence has had a grand effect on the landscape of modern Reggae music.  
"Rooted In Inity" [2010] & "Be Ever" [2011]
And apparently he isn't finished "solidifying". Working alongside the aforementioned likes of Tuff Lion, Ras Batch and Ras Attitude, as well as many others, in a genre where there're so many people whose work goes unnoticed, Blaak has seemed to be one of the most consistent figures for those who pay attention to his work. If that isn't you, then it's time to catch up as, along with his very own Green Sphere Records imprint, Blaak Lung has spent the better part of the past few years attempting to push his own recording career further and he has seen the releasing of two album in the past few years to fruition. Back in 2010 there was "Rooted In Inity" (which, in retrospect, was absolutely excellent) (oh and that album seems like it came out around eight years ago, it's been a long few years!) and a year later would reach its solid followup, "Be Ever". These two albums signalled a change in direction for the label who, again, had been putting out full albums and singles for others and it seems as if the "change" continues. 
Also from GreenSphere Records
"Signs Of Change" is the brand new album release from Blaak Lung, via Green Sphere Records. Somewhat like UK veteran vocalist, Lloyd Brown who we recently talked about, Blaak Lung has become someone of whom, every time you REALLY hear his name, you know a new album is not too far away (also like Brown, he puts out his own album (new Lloyd Brown album, "New Veteran", in stores now) on his own label (biggup Riddimworks) and does a great deal of all of the work) and I kind of remember having that feeling that a next project was likely forthcoming as Blaak is someone who, I would imagine, is GLUED to his studio and it had been a minute from the last time I had actually seen his name associated with anything that I remembered (however, as we established, that doesn't mean a great deal. He has probably been making releases all across the past couple of years), so you figured something would be forthcoming and here it is. As far as his actual music - the greatest qualities that Blaak Lung possesses are his compositions. You can pick up any of his albums that I've heard and choose almost any point at which to begin and what you're likely to notice primarily is that this man makes some AMAZING tracks and that is a trend which continues on the new album and I can assure that it remain so on his next album and the next one after that! He just makes very good music, even before you get to applying the vocals. Of course, when  you work with the likes of Tuff Lion who, once again, makes his presence known on a Blaak Lung album, as he plays on every song on "Signs Of Change" with the exception of the album's closer. And while I'm not at all going to even make an attempt to tell you that Blaak is the most dynamic of artists (more on that later), if you really do enjoy Roots Reggae music of the modern era, he has and does again, make pieces which're entertaining and captivating. He's also a strong writer and, again, that is a trait which is on a full display throughout the new album. So! What remains is to see whether or not Blaak Lung manages to continue his winning ways on his new project -- Yes. Yes he does. 

Not surprisingly at all, the musical direction on the new album is quite similar to its predecessors, but what I will say is that the album very much has a 'looser’ feel than the previous two which you can take one way or another, but does make for a very interesting trip. We began our musical journey through the brand new album from Blaak Lung, "Signs Of Change", with a very strong Intro on which Blaak, seemingly, outlines his own intentions with the album. Definitely pay attention to what is being said here, but that track is KNOCKING! The first actual full song on the album is up and it's a guaranteed signature from this set, 'One Nation'. This is a piece about unity and unification on both the small and large scales and a triumphant moment to my opinion. It also has that type of big and vibrant sound that you want to hear at the head of an album (as does the intro), which would make a newer listener curious to hear more. Nice start. Next is an even more sizable selection in the form of the MASSIVE 'Grows & Grows', which was my absolute favourite tune on this album until I reached its latter stages. I had, based on the title, assumed this one to be a 'love song' of sorts and… well I was kind of right about that, but it definitely isn't one in the typical fashion. 

"My love
[my love]
For Jah
[for Jah]
It grows
[it grows]
And grows
[and grows]
For iver
[for iver, for iver]
For iver
[for iver, for iver]

For my life that I live daily
For all of my family
Jah gave me a precious gift -
The ability to know love
Because of Father, I can see with my first eye
My direction in life is so very clear

For the earth and the sun 
For the stars and moon and clouds and every breath that I breathe
For the food that I eat
For the water that I drink
For everything, Jah has blessed me"

You see, it is a tune about love, but it is directly for the love of His Majesty and all that HE has given. BOOM! Another big song rolls in next - the very familiar 'Concrete Jungle Werkers'. I don't know if I know this riddim from somewhere or if I've just listened to it so many times, but I'm pretty sure I know something about this track from somewhere (which almost certainly means that I do not). In either case, it is a lovely tune about people maintaining themselves and their lives in the struggle provided by oppression and, in general, every day life. Three (and a half) tunes to open the record and three (and a half) big tunes. 

As you might expect of someone who has spent so much time doing work on the projects of other people, Blaak Lung has no problem getting vocalists to join him on his own record and "Signs Of Change" pushes a trio of winning combinations. First up is veteran Luv Fyah, who makes a stop on 'Mama Afreeka'. This isn't the first time the two have done a song together as they linked for a song on an older Blaak Lung album ["Aspire" from 2008], called 'Destination Rootsman'. This song is one just really giving honour to Afrika as HOME and as a major source of inspiration for people throughout the world. The Arkaingelle (why not make a new album??? It's been a long time from the last one) makes an appearance on the fine 'Been A Long Time'. Every time I mention his name, I feel compelled to also state that Arkaingelle (along with Blaak Lung) made one of the greatest songs I have ever heard in my entire life, 'Manifess Joy', and while I wait for him to reach those levels again, this track is pretty good. It has a kind of 'large' sound to it and the two deliver what proves to be a more than solid piece and one of my favourite songs on this album. I also want to mention just how much I like to hear from Arkaingelle, in general. He isn't the most active of names (though he is on the recent Indo Riddim via Jah Youth), but he almost always produces big songs. And also you'll find our old favourite, Messenjah Selah (you can make a new one too!), back with Blaak Lung again for the nice 'Re-bel Rebel'

"Let dem know dat we have a right -
To fight for whatever we believe in 
Justice - until we get some, there'll be peace
They thrive under wrong and never cease
But di fyah caan cease
Babylon, your laws are deceiving
You tried to tie our hands, but Jah bless my feet
Yes, now I must take the higher road
Yow, mi seh di system is a heavy load" 

"Dem no waan wi live better
That's why they do the worst
Different methods wi haffi use and -
Babylon dem caan tell wi what to choose man
How could wi be the last - when we were the first?
Beast belly bust, life must preserve
Wi nah tek it and just cool man
Mamma, Daddy neva raise no fool man" 

Selah actually released a pair of sublime Blaak Lung produced singles from a while back, 'Criminal Planet' and the WONDERFUL 'Be My Messenjah' (both well worth checking and are available now) and 'Re-bel Rebel, at least to my opinion is on those same levels. Big, big song. 

Sololy (not a word), Blaak continues to make strides throughout "Signs Of Change", including offering up what is my absolute favourite selection here. Before that, however, is the title track which is another strong moment. The sound here is divine, but I had to actually hear it a few times to get past the excellent vibes of the piece to really dig into it. While it isn't particularly complex to any degree, I would just say to make an effort to pay just a bit more attention here, because it is deeper than it seems. 'All We Need' may also require more than one or two spins and not because I think it to subtly DEEP, but because it is… EXCELLENT.

Mr. Oppressor know it is a must
That's why he took it from us
Him give us so much negativity
On the radio, TV or the movies
If you look in your communities -
There's so much anger and destruction, see
That was the ultimate plan for we
To keep in a lower form of consciousness, see
So what we must do is overcome this trend
And bring back love again" 

Originally, I was not very impressed by 'Into You', which is a love song, but despite the fact that it will never be a favourite of mine on this album, it has grown on me considerably from the first listen (probably due to its inescapable chorus - good luck not finding yourself singing that thing WELL after you've finished with rest of the album). 'Walking Away', had no such space to grow in my affections - I enjoyed it from the very first listen. The strength here, at least partially, is how well it relates to the title and theme of the album. It takes the concept of "change" and really personalizes it for Blaak Lung and the listener as the artist suggests making both large and small changes in one's life, thus "walking away" to a better frame of mind - both a mental and, if need be, a physical walk. 

As it winds down "Signs Of Change" continues to thrive, but it never does so as brilliantly as it does on what is my choice as the album's single best tune, 'No More'!

Jah's time is soon near
Victory for us is here
What a beautiful day this will be
One big global family"

This song… it has so many wonderfully different facets. In the middle of it, Blaak Lung breaks out with a Spoken Word styled delivery and what resonates throughout is his growing CONFIDENCE. At times it is casual and at others it's far more forceful, but you know this man is full certain that "soon there won't be no more wars anymore!" What immediately precedes 'No More, 'I Call On Jah', is also a highlight (though it may take you awhile to realize it). No new ground is broken here and it doesn't take things to a 'different level', but it is damn delightful and hopefully it gets a proper chance to shine, because it deserves it. Check 'New Day' (also delightful) and 'I Know' (… yeah, pretty delightful) also. The former is a decent piece which doesn't really have anything SPECTACULAR to it, but is a standard Roots track. The latter, on the other hand, is golden!

"I know sometimes it can be real hard
But always keep on holding firm to Jah Jah
Never sacrifice your roots and culture
I know sometimes it can be real hard
Just keep on moving forward
And never go backwards, backwards"

Lastly, "Signs Of Change" ends on an acoustic note - 'Declaration To Jah'. There're stronger and similar compositions on the album, but this tune does nothing to dip the quality of the complete record to my opinion.

My one prevailing critique of "Signs Of Change" is that it could have used a bit more "change". I wouldn't at all want a grand deviation (and I'm almost certain Blaak Lung wouldn't do that anyway), but it can be a little 'rigid', at times (even on songs that I really like), so maybe just one changeup, at least in my opinion (and what do I know???), could have really added a bit more colour and texture to the release. 
Overall, however, "Signs Of Change" is still a winner and is one with quite a bit of room to spare. I've become a bit more 'open-minded' recently and while this album is one which I would have very much recommended strictly for more experienced listeners, I don't think that's the exact case here. If you're a newer fan, you should probably be able to find quite a bit here to like (though "Rooted In Inity" does remain the best of Blaak Lung's albums that I've heard). Older fans - have fun! "Signs Of Change" is an album which impacts in a heavy way, but by its end, it proves to be quite meticulous and well-crafted. Of course what else should we expect from someone such as Blaak Lung whose presence in Reggae music, in some form, has made it even more enjoyable throughout the years. Well done.

Rated: 4.15/5
Green Sphere Records
CD + Digital 

Review #425

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