New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: dancehall reggae

Balkan Beat Box Put Out Their Hottest Dancefloor Album Yet to Brooklyn Steel

The immediate image that comes to mind from the opening track on Balkan Beat Box’s new album Shout it Out – streaming at Spotify – is singer Tomer Yosef beckoning a vast crowd of dancers at some summer festival to join in on the chorus. “Can I get a BOOOOM?”

Dude, you can get as much boom as you want because this is a party in a box. Balkan Beat Box have always been a dance band, but this is their danciest record yet. His longtime bandmates, saxophonist Ori Kaplan and ex-Big Lazy drummer Tamir Muskat join him in paring the new songs closer to the bone than ever. The hooks are more disarmingly direct and the beats seem faster than usual, maybe because the energy is so high. For what it’s worth, it’s their least Balkan and most Jamaican-influenced album to date.

The album keeps the party rolling long after everybody presumably gives Yosef a BOOM. That number, Give It a Tone has echoes of dancefloor reggae. The next, I Trusted U, hints at Bollywood over a Bo Diddley beat that picks up with a mighty sway and a slashing, vintage Burning Spear-style horn chart. The title track is a lean, dub-influenced tune that gives Yosef another big opportunity to engage the crowd.

The woozily strutting electro-dancehall number Ching Ching is really funny, Yosef’s rhymes making fun of status-grubbers who “Wanna be a bigshot on a small screen…everybody do the same twerking,” he snarls. I’ll Watch Myself stirs a simple Balkan brass hook into a pulsing midtempo EDM beat with a little hip-hop layered overhead. From there the group segue into Just the Same, which is the album’s coolest track: a mashup of dub, dancehall and Algerian rai.

Kaplan gets his smoky baritone sax going in Hard Worker, a funny bhangra rap number. “If you want, I can also be Obama,” Yosef wants us to know. There are both fast as well as slower, shorter dub versions of Mad Dog and This Town, the former a No No No-stye noir soul strut, the latter a dancehall tune. There’s also Kum Kum, a skeletally clattering J-pop influenced groove with a girlie chorus. The one thing you can’t do with this is pump up the bass because there basically isn’t any. Bring it on!

Good Cop and Bad Cop Review the Hi Grade Ganja Anthems 4 Compilation

Good Cop: You’re on your own with this. I don’t like this album.

Bad Cop: Whoah, you’re the one always accusing me of breaking character and now you’re doing that right off the bat. That’s supposed to be my line.

Good Cop: I don’t care. I think this album is amateurish and panders to a certain demographic, know what I mean? Pot should be legal, sure, but do we have to sing about it?

Bad Cop: [in a fake Jamaican accent] Yeah mon! Greetings in the name of His Imperial Majesty, Haile I Selassie I, JAH!!!! Rastafari, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Igziabeher, Nagus a Nagas, the healing of the nation, the only cure for glaucoma, found on the grave of King Solomon…

Good Cop: You’re mixing your metaphors. And this isn’t a religious album. It’s about getting stoned. And it’s about as interesting as getting stoned.

Bad Cop: How do you know? You’ve never been high.

Good Cop: I don’t think I’m missing anything.

Bad Cop: Fine, more for me.

Good Cop: I’ll bet you’re high right now.

Bad Cop: Hahahahaha. Um, I lost my train of thought. Say, you don’t have any Ring Dings on you, do you?

Good Cop: Seriously, you look pretty stoned.

Bad Cop: I think that comes from listening to this album. I guess we should go through the tracks. Um, the first one is by Snoop Lion. The point of this one seems to be that we can fight global warming by planting more weed.

Good Cop: The vocals are autotuned. Yuck. You have to be stoned to like this.

Bad Cop: OK, the second track is about drinking ganja tea, and that’s the title of the song. It’s by Keida. I like this one. It’s oldschool, kinda oldschool at least. You know, a real band.

Good Cop: Too top 40 for me.

Bad Cop: Here’s another rootsy track, Cali Green by Mighty Mystic. This one’s a little more of a dub. Good song, huh?

Good Cop: More R&B masquerading as reggae. At least this isn’t autotuned.

Bad Cop: You’re in a bad mood. Here, have some of this [reaches into his pocket].

Good Cop [waves him away] No thanks, I don’t need your saliva.

Bad Cop: You’re no fun. But this album is. The next track is titled simply Marijuana. It’s by Linval Thompson – I think this is an old song, but I can’t remember if I’ve ever heard it before.

Good Cop: That figures. This is obviously an old song: you can tell that this is an overcompressed digital mix of an old analog recording. You know, this one actually isn’t bad.

Bad Cop: Glad you agree. Now where were we? Here’s track four, Marijuana, by Linval Thompson.

Good Cop: We just heard that.

Bad Cop: Oh yeah, duh. OK, here’s track six, another old roots number, I Man a Grasshopper by Pablo Moses.

Good Cop: You skipped a track.

Bad Cop: Huh?

Good Cop: We just heard track four. Now you’re saying we should listen to track six.

Bad Cop: No, this is track five.

Good Cop: No it’s not.

Bad Cop: Oh yeah, you’re right. But we might as well listen to I Man a Grasshopper. It’s got a clavinova and distorted guitar through a cheap amp. It sounds so Jamaica, 1980. I love it! Yeah mon!

Good Cop: You know, if we were around back then, we’d be listening to something more substantial.

Bad Cop: I was around back then

Gooc Cop: But you weren’t listening to this.

Bad Cop: I didn’t know this existed. Not many people outside Jamaica knew this existed and I wasn’t in Jamaica. [aside] I was deprived as a child.

Good Cop: Good thing you were deprived or you wouldn’t have any brain cells left.

Bad Cop: You’re just jealous. OK, we’re now going to hear track seven, Oh Mr. DC by Sugar Minott with Fantan Mojah and Military Man.

Good Cop: You forgot track five.

Bad Cop: Oh yeah, We’ll get back to that. This is more of a dancehall song. Very in the moment. Roots riddim, but it’s all hi-tech.

Good Cop: And those R&B vocals. Not my favorite.

Bad Cop: Me neither. Now here’s, um, what track were we just listening to?

Goood Cop: That was Oh Mr. DC. But you forgot track five.

Bad Cop: Aw, wow, ok, let’s hear that one, Weed Fields, by Desi Roots. Now this is a great song! I don’t know this one. Obviously from the golden age. Good band, good singer, a real crooner. Good lyrics too.

Good Cop: This sounds like a reggae remake of a Vegas pop song from the sixties. I don’t know which one. Any idea?

Bad Cop: You know what, you’re probably right. This is my favorite track so far.

Good Cop: Yeah, not bad. Now let’s hear track six, I Man a Grasshopper, by Pablo Moses.

Bad Cop: I think I’ve heard this before. An old roots tune.

Good Cop: You have heard it before. About ten minutes ago.

Bad Cop [sheepishly grinning]: OK, you got me. Got me good. Here’s track seven, Oh Mr. DC – wait, didn’t we hear this one?

Good Cop: Yes, if you weren’t so high you would realize that we’re on, um…where are we? What’s next?

Bad Cop [unwrapping a stick of Roll-O’s]: Um, that’s why I brought you along. For the heavy lifting.

Good Cop: If this is heavy lifting then you’re a lightweight.

Bad Cop: Who’s calling who a lightweight? You didn’t even smoke.

Good Cop: Enough already. Um, the next song is track eight, One Draw, by Rita Marley. Speaking of lightweight, I never understood why this song was so popular.

Bad Cop: This isn’t Rita Marley. It’s some dancehall guy.

Good Cop: Oh yeah, you’re right. This is Alborosie featuring Camilla. I actually think this is better than the original. Which doesn’t mean that I liked the original.

Bad Cop: Don’t be such a sourpuss. Here, have a Roll-O.

Good Cop: OK, thanks. Now we’re on, what, track nine? This is Collie Herb Man. Do these songs really need titles? Aren’t they all pretty much the same anyway?

Bad Cop: I hate it when people say all reggae sounds the same. On this album so far we’ve heard some classic roots, some dancehall and some of whatever you call what they’re doing these days in Jamaica, it’s kind of hip-hop. And you remember that Jamaicans invented hip-hop.

Good Cop: Yeah, back in the 1950s. Anyway, this is Katchafire doing Collie Herb Man. This is bizarre. Is that a vibraphone or just a synthesizer?

Bad Cop: Whoah! This is a Steel Pulse cover. This is a fair approximation, but the original was better.

Good Cop: I learn something new every day. OK, next track. How many damn songs are on this album, anyway?

Bad Cop [grinning] Lots! This is High Grade by Jamelody featuring Natural Black. You know, the crooner-plus-toaster routine. Chaka Demus and Pliers, that sort of thing.

Good Cop: Wow, that’s a name I never thought I’d ever hear again.

Bad Cop: Who?

Good Cop: Chaka Demus. What was his big hit?

Bad Cop: Murder She Wrote [sings] “Murder she wrote, murder she wrote…”

Good Cop: OK, that’s enough, you’re no Chaka Demus. Pliers, maybe.

Bad Cop: That song didn’t set me on fire. Track eleven is Puff It, by I-Octane.

Good Cop: This is awful. Autotune, yuck. How long is this album? I don’t have all day to sit around and listen to Jamaicans rap about how much they like to smoke weed.

Bad Cop: It’s a long one! The next song is Hi Grade, by Busy Signal.

Good Cop: We already heard this.

Bad Cop: No we didn’t. It’s spelled differently. Now this one I like. Oldschool 80s style dancehall except that it’s new.

Good Cop: This is a ripoff of Murder She Wrote!

Bad Cop: Wow. If you hadn’t mentioned it, I never would have noticed.

Good Cop: Let’s make this a wrap. The next song is Collie Weed, by Shinehead.

Bad Cop: I LOVE this song! This is right from around the time the original came out. They took one of the worst songs ever written, Summer Breeze, by Seals & Crofts, and turned it into a ganja-smoking anthem. You know, I saw Shinehead do this live on Rockers TV with Earl Chin.

Good Cop: You know what, this is better than the original. Which isn’t saying much. How many more songs do we have to hear?

Bad Cop: Not done yet. Next one is Sensi Addict by Horace Ferguson. Wait, this sounds like a girl singing. Who is this?

Good Cop: Your guess as good as mine.

Bad Cop: This sounds like it was made with a Casio and a cheap mic, in 1985.

Good Cop: Probably was. That happens a lot in the third world.

Bad Cop: True. OK, next song. Strong Sensi, by Little John. Another really good one I never heard of. Obviously about thirty years old, maybe older. Out-of-tune piano, string synth, a real band.

Good Cop: Actually it’s not anywhere near that old. But it’s a clever imitation. Are we done yet?

Bad Cop: Nope. Next song is Better Collie, by Horace Andy.

Good Cop: If you just tuned in, we’re listening to, what is the name of this album?

Bad Cop: The Hi Grade Ganja Anthems 4 compilation. In honor of 4/20.

Good Cop: Horace Andy, now this guy I know. From my brother during his ska phase in high school. This is more of a reggae song.

Bad Cop: Guy from the golden age of ska, skanking about di herb! I love it!

Good Cop: Moving right along, the next song is, oh god, Sensimania, what a title. By Welton Irie. Never heard of the guy.

Bad Cop: Guessing it’s from the 80s. The last gasp of roots before dancehall took over. You know, the “murderah” chorus. Come to think of it, I know this song. I think I actually have it on a mixtape somewhere.

Good Cop: Wouldn’t surprise me. Is that it?

Bad Cop: Nope. Last song is Bring the Kouchie Come, by Mystic Eyes. Wow, I’m really impressed by this one. The production is really good and oldschool. And there’s a dub at the end, very cool.

Good Cop: Whew, I never though we’d ever get through this thing. To me this is just a random playlist. Is there such a thing as a reggae song that doesn’t mention getting stoned, anyway?

Bad Cop: I love this album. I know there are a few weak tracks but the good stuff is priceless.

Good Cop: So where can we stream this tedious thing online?

Bad Cop: Um, I forgot to plug in my phone and it’s dead. Can you google it? The album, I mean.

Good Cop [after half an hour of nonstop googling]: Answer is that you can’t. But you can hear everything here except for the Welton Irie song on youtube – you can use the links above in each of the song titles. The Welton Irie tune seems to be very obscure. You’re gonna have to digitize that track you have on that mixtape and upload it somewhere.

Bad Cop: Ha, if I can find it. Sure is fun being a grouch and ragging on random bands, isn’t it? You’ve been breaking character all day and I haven’t busted you once.

Good Cop: You’re right, I’m sick of the goody two-shoes routine. We should switch roles more often. Especially if blog boss gives us another one of these. I thought we were on a roll with this blog for awhile, but after this, you gotta wonder…

Bad Cop: Blog boss would never sink to the level of seriously reviewing an album of weedhead reggae songs. Strictly for the B team. That’s us.

Good Cop: You know what, blog boss doesn’t like grunt work like researching individual songs. How much you wanna bet we end up with the next compilation album this blog does?

Bad Cop: Bring it on. Hey, do you have my Roll-O’s?

Good Cop: Oh yeah, here, I was sitting on them. Hey, wait a minute, these smell like weed!

Bad Cop: Heh heh heh…

A 420 Playlist

How did you spend your 4/20? Some of you probably can’t remember.That’s ok. How about this for a trip: walking through Harlem for 70+ blocks due to lack of trains. But it it’s cool, and kind of surreal to see places in daylight that you usually only see at night. The United Palace Theatre. for example – how refreshing to see that landmark hasn’t been demolished for yet another plastic-and-glass “luxury” condo.

Meanwhile, the folks over at VP Records – who’ve been putting out the Strictly the Best compilations since time forgot – sent over an aromatic promo called “Various Artists Celebrate 420.” Which is funny for all the obvious reasons, various being a relative word. The first artist they’re pitching is New Zealand Maori roots reggae band Katchafire, who have a new album due out – the track they sent over is Collie Herb Man, and although it’s a total rip of the Steel Pulse classic Sound System, it’s also got refreshingly organic production values – a digital production, obviously, but with real guitar, real bass and spare percussion which could be samples, or not. It draws you in – when this stuff hits you, you feel no pain.

The second one is No Cocaine, a collaboration between Slightly Stoopid (don’t laugh), Capleton and Inner Circle doing the riddims – once again, oldschool organic style. When Capleton  steps all over the smooth harmonies and rasps “It’s the healing of the nation,”  you just have to laugh.

A massive Yellowman career retrospective, Young Gifted & Yellow has been out for awhile (the file the label offered is too big to download, which explains why it hasn’t been covered here) – the track on the promo turned out to be the early 80s sleng teng hit Burn the Kutchie.

The 90s were represented by Sanchez and his track Chronic, a dancehall-flavored nod to west coast rap. To wrap it up, here’s the late great Sugar Minott doing Herb Man Hustling. All these links are youtube clips: as always, get your fingers ready to mute the ads in case one pops up (they didn’t the first time around, but with youtube, who knows).

Some Memorable, Surreal Barrington Levy Tracks from the Archives

Barringon Levy is one of the hardest working men in the reggae business, a familiar face on tour year in, year out. For those who know him as a teddybear crooner, that persona is some distance from Levy’s much more eclectic early years in Jamaica, right at the point where dancehall started to break away from roots and become its own style. The folks over at VP Records – who’ve been putting out Strictly the Best compilations since the 80s – have just released the mammoth 40-track compilation Barrington Levy: Sweet Reggae Music 1979-84. It’s good inspiration for anybody putting together a playlist, not to mention a fond look back at a time and place gone forever.

Ironic that the Roots Radics, who back Levy on most of these tracks, would be instrumemtal in the development of early dancehall to the point where they inadvertently put themselves and other bands like them out of business, more or less! A cynic might say that these tracks sound like they were thrown together on the fly, which they undoubtedly were. By the same token, it’s amazing how much imagination went into making them interesting, and giving them an individual flavor, especially considering how slapdash these singles were assembled.  If you want to hear a fifteen-year-old youthman from Kingston who sounds stoned out of his mind, crank up the opening track, Collie Weed: if the lyric is to be trusted, his mom sent him out to buy some. He’s a little older on the album’s last track, the early dancehall classic Under Mi Sensi: “Babylon yuh na like ganja much, but it bring foreign currency pon de island..”.

On the 38 tracks in between, the production and riddims are refreshingly organic: fat bass, echoey acoustic piano, biting skanky guitar, real drums and percussion. And it’s interesting to hear Levy’s singing style developing – as fine a crooner as he became, there’s a raw, hungry quality to many of the vocals here that’s absent in his more polished, mature material. And the songs are a microcosm of late 70s/early 80s Jamaican reggae history. Levy’s Bounty Hunter sounds like a prototype for Israel Vibration’s Mr. Consular Man, and is his song Sister Carol a shout-out to the Brooklyn dancehall sister…or did she take her name from it? On one of the relatively rare tracks, Soldier, did Bingy Bunny or whoever’s playing the guitar nick the exaggerated echo effect from the Clash,. or did Mick Jones steal it from him?

Levy and band take Black Uhuru’s brooding, bitter Shine Eyed Gal and transform it into a surrealistically sunny anthem. The rest of the collection alternates between gnomic Rasta rambles like Trod with Jah Jah and somewhat less mystical numbers like Mary Long Tongue, whose subtext remains amusing after all these years. The first of the two discs focuses more on songs, the second more on dub, although there aren’t any versions, per se, of any of the hits. Many of these songs are funny, many are pretty weird, and they show how many diverse directions Levy was willing to go in just to put himself on the reggae map. Thirty years later, he’s still here, testament to a rare brand of persistence.

The Dub Pistols Keep the Party Going Strong

If you’re into reggae, you probably already know that the Dub Pistols have a new album, Worshipping the Dollar, out this month, which they’re touring across Europe this summer. It’s a roadmap of where reggae is at, midway through 2012. A parade of dancehall artists give a shout out to the Dub Pistols massive over a mix of organic grooves mingling with techy blips and beats. It’s roots, and dancehall, and dub all blended together, plus one track that’s straight-up hip-hop, and the brisk opening cut, which has a techno beat. Slinky organ, twin trombones, swooshy white noise, ominously echoey electric piano, sly outer-space effects and crispy low Sly & the Family Stone clavinova shift in and out of the mix over an unexpected exchange of riddims.

The hardest-hitting track here is West End Story, featuring Akala & Dan Bowskill. Over an intricately layered psychedelic ska backdrop, the lyricists deliver a cynical look at how “the world’s one big slave ship…while most of humanity lives in abject poverty by design, is that not insanity? There is no flag that’s large enough to wrap around the horror…” The funniest song is Mucky Weekend, featuring Rodney P: seriously, how many drugs can this guy possibly do in a single night in the club? He never gets to explain how it ends. The last we see of him, he’s burning up the highway in the rain, high on coke, girl asleep in the backseat of his car with the cops in hot pursuit. Bang Bang, featuring Kitten & the Hip is a murder anthem with Ghost Town-style noir organ. After that, there’s Rub a Dub, a sex joint featuring Darrison, Sir Real and Bowskill; the weedhead dancehall anthem New Skank with TK Lawrence and Bowskill again and then the absolutely bizarre Rock Steady, with Rodney P explaining that “I’ve got more fiddles than the London Philharmonic.” They’ve also got a handful of 90s style shuffling gangsta dancehall numbers, and wrap up the album with an oscillating, spiraling dub tune. If you imagine a pungent skunky smell while hearing this, it seems to be intentional: it’s a soundtrack for your party this summer.

See-I Remixed – Better Than the Original?

See-I’s debut album from last summer was a lot of fun: early 90s style roots reggae joints with a trippy, hi-tech dub feel that managed to be 21st century without being cheesy. In a way, it was the last thing you’d expect from a project led by a couple of guys from Thievery Corporation, a case of putting technology to work instead of letting the robots take over. In an attempt to max out the psychedelic factor, there’s a See-I remix album just out with 13 dub remakes of several of the original album tracks, and it’s a rare dub plate that might actually better than the original. The band is at Bowery Ballroom tonight (Jan 6th) at around 11 with funk orchestra the Pimps of Joytime opening at 10: reputedly See-I’s live shows are just as trippy as their records.

Maybe because the originals here were pretty psychedelic to begin with, most of versions here don’t mess with the songs as much as reggae dubs usually do. Where the layers get stripped away, it’s nice to hear the lyrics. As it turns out, the opening track, Dangerous, is about “too many drive-by shootings” in the band’s Washington, DC neighborhood, and a couple of other tracks put the anti-violence lyrics front and center as well. The Funk Hunters’ remix of Soul Hit Man gives it a mid-80s George Clinton vibe with bassy keys, while Drumagick beefs it up with layers of extra beats and reverb. JPod the Beat Chef takes How We Do to about 1995 with a woozy vintage Timbaland-style hip-hop mix, while Must Beat Crew go for a more straight-up, clubby hip-hop take on Soul Universe, one of the more oldschool tracks on the record (with a sample of somebody burping low in the mix). The more radical stuff includes Turntables Dubbers & Sebski‘s remix of Blow Up, blending mighty 80s anthemic sonics with swirling, rootsy organ patches along with the Knight Riders’ remake of Blow Up and J-Roc’s Homegrown 2011 remix, both with body-thumping synth bass subsonics that scream out for a booming system to blast them.

True story: seconds after pulling on a good set of headphones and cranking this up, a familiar skunky smell began to to fill the room. Was it somebody outside in the freight elevator, or just the record?