New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: dub music

The Brown Rice Family Bring Their Latin-Inspired Reggae and Ska to Drom, With a Psychedelic New Album

For the past several years, the Brown Rice Family have been one of New York’s most consistently fun jambands. Their catchy, danceable songs blend ska and reggae with all kinds of south-of-the-border sounds. They won the WNYC Battle of the Bands back when that achievement actually meant something – which wasn’t that long ago, actually. They’ve got a new album, Havana to Kingston, and an album release show on July 9 at 8 PM at Drom; advance tix are $10.

The basic band lineup is Sticky Rice and Okai on vocals, Yuichi on percussion, Soils on soprano sax, Amu on bass, Kaz on guitar, Isaiah on tenor sax and clarinet and Tama on drums. Like so many classic New York bands, their members hail from diverse backgrounds, representing Haiti, Japan, Nigeria and Jamaica and this city as well. The album kicks off with a really funny intro, a Jamaican guy hitting on a coy Cuban bartendress, leading into the first single, Latin Goes Ska, drawing equally on the original Alejandro Tovar Cuban hit as well as the better-known Skatalites remake for a joyous dancehall-infused jam lit up with sizzling horn solos.

Listening to the album, the first thing that hits you is that these songs are long: they go on for six or seven minutes at a clip, with a subtle dub influence. The oldschool roots reggae anthem Gun Town blends Israel Vibration harmonies to a classic Burning Spear-style groove, with a potent anti-violence message. Say What You Wanna Say is a punchy, upbeat blend of horn-fueled soca and vintage 80s dancehall. Repatriation (Mama Africa) builds to a lushly orchestrated, Rasta-themed peak, in the same vein as one of the more anthemic tracks on Bob Marley’s Kaya album –  Kaz’s Memphis-inspired guitar solo caps it off.

The propulsively bubbling Zimbabwe (Illegal Economic Sanctions) addresses the issue of how multinational corporations push western governments into terrorizing the third world, creating a new slave state for this era’s global robber barons. Moving Forward takes a potently relevant detour into conscious funk – “Eminent domain taking over your mainframe” – with a shout-out to a classic Crusaders hit. The band goes back to roots reggae with She’s Gone: “I”m becoming dysfunctional,” Sticky Rice laments, before a balmy Augustus Pablo-style melodica solo kicks off a dub interlude. The album winds up with Surfing, a vintage 70s roots groove. Since the record isn’t out yet, it’s not at any of the usual streaming sites, although it’s a good bet that the band will have some copies of it at this show. And as good and purist as the recording is, ultimately this is a live band: you really have to see them to appreciate them, whether you just want to chill and sway to the riddim or rock out and dance, either way they’re happy to have you there.

Wild, Diverse Global Energy Overflows at Lincoln Center

Last night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors was an exhilarating if somewhat underappreciated mix of global sounds. Opening night of this year’s festival on the 20th of the month, a Pete Seeger tribute kicked off by none other than Judy Collins, was a mobscene rivaled here in recent years only by the overflow crowd at the 2010 staging of pianist Larry Harlow’s iconic salsa jazz suite, La Raza Latina.

A performance of some rather arch indie classical and contemporary ballet pieces this past Friday drew a smaller and less diverse crowd, but the diversity was back last night in epic force, at least musically speaking. Assembled by the prime movers of Globalfest, the evening had every bit of eclecticism and often delirious energy as their annual January Webster Hall celebration of mostly dance-oriented sounds from around the world, a spinoff of the APAP booking agents’ convention. Originating before the youtube era, the concert gives venue bookers and the public alike a chance to sample party music of pretty much every stripe throughout a series of what are essentially longform auditions. There’s literally something for everyone, as there was all over the Lincoln Center complex last night. Don’t like canned beats? Leave the underground parking garage (where the promoters had cleverly stashed that stuff away) and go to the park out back for a funky Indian jamband, or to the plaza for some Mexican brass music.

Around the corner from the opera hall, Colombian-American psychedelic cumbia band M.A.K.U. Soundsystem stole the show, and the crowd from Red Baraat – who were half a block south, in Damrosch Park – with their slinky, moodily triumphant grooves, reaffirming their status as one of New York’s best bands. And they left no doubt that at this point, cumbia has superseded reggae as this era’s default global party music. What’s coolest about cumbia is that a lot of it is pretty creepy, a quality underscored by keyboardist Felipe Quiroz’s sepulchrally tremoloing organ. Bassist/frontman Juan Ospina played bitingly catchy, hypnotically bouncy riffs and sang in tandem with multi-percussionist Liliana Conde, alongside guitar, conga, drums and a punchy two-trombone horn section (joined at the end by an esteemed Colombian tenor saxophonist whose introduction got lost in a flurry of applause). The band’s lyrics, mostly in Spanish, celebrate diversity and global unity in a surprisingly poetic way, without being either trite or saccharine, over loping, undulating minor-key vamps punctuated by animated percussion breaks and menacingly swirly keyboard riffs. One of the casually defiant tracks from the band’s latest vinyl ep, Musica Nunca Muere (The Music Never Dies) pretty much said it all. If the IWW had embraced cumbia instead of marching band music, maybe the Wobblies really would have taken over the world.

The evening’s single best performance – and funniest moment onstage – might have been from New Orleans “Russian mafia band” Debauche. Toward the end of their bristling, boisterous, hourlong set, given the “ten more minutes” sign from the sound booth, they responded by speeding up until they were going doublespeed and then even faster. More bands should do that! Frontman/acoustic guitarist Yegor Romantsov evoked another charismatic Slavic rock bandleader, Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz, as he made his way through edgy minor-key Russian-language romps about duplicitous women, deals gone bad, a love song reinvented from a lesbian perspective, and a mashup of a Jewish wedding song and a happy-go-lucky Mexican folk tune. Their was a distinct klezmer influence in many of the songs, from a sarcastically swaying hi-de-ho anthem, to a series of bouncily brooding, clarinet-and-violin-fueled shuffles. An attempt to get the heavily Russian crowd to sing along on Bublichki, the opening track on the band’s album Cossacks on Prozac – which would be better titled Cossacks on Coke – met with mixed results. But there was a big crowd down front dancing. And somehow the bull fiddle survived being climbed on by both the the burly guy who was playing it, as well as the coyly energetic woman playing standup bass drum and tambourine.

Sandwiched in between the cumbia and the klezmer rock were an eight-piece edition of Brooklyn’s Banda de los Muertos, who do both original and traditional Sinaloa-style brass music with trombones, horns, trumpets, woodwinds and drums. Most of their set had a breezy, good-natured sway, through a mix of ranchera waltzes, a Los Tigres del Norte cover and Marty Robbins’ El Paso reinvented as a mariachi brass theme. Trumpets and trombones got most of the solos and made the most of them, Ben Holmes and Brian Drye getting the choicest parts. Mariachi Flor de Toloache frontwoman Mireya Ramos took the music in a strikingly intense, imploring direction with her powerful, angst-fueled, melismatic vocals on a bolero, Te Quiero Tanto, written by the band’s frontman/clarinetist’s aunt. And then Ramos led the group back onto more upbeat turf.

Opening the night in Damrosch Park, Moroccan/Israeli crooner Emil Zrihan delivered an often riveting, impassioned performance worthy of a headliner, backed by his regular accordionist and an inspired pickup band who played seamlessly despite having been assembled at the last minute (the rest of the singer’s band were back in Israel, having been unable to get visas). Zrihan blends sounds from a millenium worth of Andalucian music as well as Sephardic cantorial themes, with an occasional detour toward klezmer or rai. His smartly dynamic, nonchalantly crescendoing take of the classic protest song Ya Rayyeh was well-received by the small but electrified crowd gathered in the shade toward the front of the stage. Zrihan and the accordion slowly jammed their way into many of the numbers, climbing to melismatic peaks that sometimes took on operatic exuberance or angst against a tightly swaying, rhythmically tricky backdrop of acoustic guitar, violin and twin hand drums.

And it was too bad that there weren’t more people in the park to catch Brazilian dub band BaianaSystem. Although a lot of what they had was on tape (or in the mixing board, or coming from somebody’s phone), their slow, slinky pulse made for an aptly nocturnal sendoff to the few who remained, ending the night with fat, tersely emphatic bass, long, ominously chromatic solos from electric guitarra baiana player Robertinho Barreto and rapidfire, reggaeton-style Portuguese lyrics from frontman Russo Passapusso.

Trippy, Creepy Surf Rock from France’s La Femme

If there was a surf band in Blade Runner, or in Jabba the Hut’s lounge, it would be La Femme. The French group sound like no other band on the planet – or maybe the universe. While many of the tracks on their latest album, Psycho Tropical Berlin – streaming at Youtube – are instrumentals, the band’s latest shtick is to have a mystery woman guest as vocalist on many of the tracks, appropriate enough considering what the band call themselves. They’re at Glasslands on March 23 at 11ish for $12.

Their basic m.o. is to surround their often creepily Lynchian, twangy surf guitar with all kinds of layers of synths, some of them weirdly offcenter and adding to the uneasy ambience, some of them pretty cheesy. Their French lyrics often aim for humor, with mixed results: the music is the point here. The album’s opening track, Antitaxi, sets the stage: noir sci-fi keys speed up to a motorik spy movie theme of sorts, which gives way to shivery faux organ and eventually the Ventures-in-space guitar kicks in. Amour Dans le Motu makes a creepier cousin to that number, an organ-fueled baroque surf number with an unexpectedly atmospheric mellotron interlude midway through.

The band’s titular song is funk-pop with tremolo-bar guitar: on one level, it’s totally 80s, on another it’s completely original to this band. A slow Lynchian tone poem simply titled Interlude is next, followed by the equally Lynchian reggae of Hypsoline and Sur la Planche 2013, which takes early Ventures noir forward fifty years in time with synth bass and a big shuffling drum crescendo.

They go back to reggae, with some scary dialogue (in French) seemingly from a Chernobyl documentary, and then some bizarre but good boogie-woogie piano, in From Tchernobyl With Love. They mix up spy surf with cheesy dancefloor electronics in Packshot, then shift to a moody minor-key reggae/trip-hop mashup with Saisis La Corde. Le Blues de Francoise drifts along on a swooshy organ grove, a tale about a girl with problems.

With a grand total of twenty tracks, the album thins out as it goes along. The good stuff includes some more baroque spacerock and then a hypnotically murky dub version, some ominous trip-hop and a stab at Orbison noir through the warped, synthesized prism of new wave. On the downside, there’s one song that nicks the Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner, another that’s an overlong attempt to remake New Order’s Temptation, along with ripoffs of Blondie’s Heart of Glass and Berlin’s The Metro, a Missing Persons soundalike, some halfhearted Chuck Berry gone hi-tech plus a considerably more techy, purposeless remake of one of the songs on their previous release, Le Podium. Still, when this band is on their game, the ambience they create is as genuinely as it is offhandedly sinister.

Entrancing Dubwise Grooves from Tarana

Atmospheric Indian-influenced band Tarana‘s latest release The Laden Soul Desires the Sun  – streaming all the way through at Soundcloud – is a pair of psychedelic trombone-and-percussion grooves that are vastly more lush and entrancing than you would expect from just those instruments. The percussionist is the reliably eclectic Ravish Momin; the trombonist is the increasingly ubiquitous Rick Parker, whose resonant lines here echo his work in the brilliant twin-trombone dub band Super Hi-Fi. There are also pensive, wordless vocals and spare synth effects on these nonchalantly brooding dubwise tracks. The first is a six minute-plus groove whose swirls and squiggles quickly give way to a brooding minor-key march fueled by Parker’s deadpan but scowlingly direct trombone, with umpteeen hypnotic dynamic shifts. The second is about nine minutes of allusive, moody minimalism, a slow slinky groove that Parker interrupts with a wicked, reggae-tinged riff…and then they take it doublespeed, but with an even more stripped-down trance feel. Turn on, tune in, do what you have to do: kick back and let this stuff take you to a better place.

It Takes a Lot of Nerve to Call Your Band 10 Foot Ganja Plant

Oldschool dub reggae connoisseurs 10 Foot Ganja Plant celebrate the release of their thirteenth album, Skycatcher, with a rare live show at the Sinclair in Boston on Sept 20. The band plans to have the record “in all good record stores” by Sept 24. One thing that distinguishes 10 Foot Ganja Plant from the other dub groups is that they encompass the entire world of classic dub, from the tail end of the rocksteady era through Lee “Scratch” Perry, on forward to King Tubby and then their own main group, John Brown’s Body. The other is the songwriting: the tracks here are all actual songs, not just two-chord vamps where everything drops down to just the bass, or the keyboard, or the drums…you know the drill. Unless you’re high, that stuff gets old fast. This draws you in and keeps you there all the way through, an eclectic mix of oldschool Jamaican riddims and riffs, instrumentals and vocal numbers.

The first two tracks set the stage: instead of doing the song and then the version, they open with the version and then follow with the fully fleshed-out song so you can see the whole thing coming together. It’s a cool idea. As with the best dub, it’s the little touches that keep it interesting: wisps of melodica, a rattle, reverby conga hits and even wah synth like in the old days of John Brown’s Body back in the 90s. Jay Champany, whose raspy voice has sung many of this group’s songs over the years, carries the song, which doesn’t neglect crafty little elements like the echoey snare riffage in the background, and a fat bass break.

The anthemic Collect the Trophy sounds like Harry Chapin Cat’s in the Cradle done as dub reggae – and is this about the Cannabis Cup? Like most of the tracks here, Sounding Zone is anchored by a wicked bass hook, set against a casual, emphatic sax vamp, punchy brass in and out against woozy synth. State of Man has JBB founder emeritus Kevin Kinsella’s falsetto channeling the Congo’s Cedric Myton all the way through. The title track makes a stark contrast with its ominous minor-key harmonica and distantly austere, spacious vibe, then gets fleshed out with Kinsella on the mic.

Champany sings the angry, biting, minor-key Hypocrites in Town , “a warning to all deceivers,” the full band nimbly weaving in and out. The poppiest track here, Sometimes We Play reminds of vintage Marley, circa Kaya – again, it’s the bass hook that drives it. Champany returns to take the album out on a high note on the lively rocksteady of Sing and Dance. As is this band’s custom, there are no musician credits: these guys like mystery, in the real world as well as the musical sense.

Sly and Robbie Bring It Down to the Roots

Sly and Robbie played a deep, purist set of roots reggae grooves at Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn yesterday, arguably the highlight of an otherwise lacklustre, ostensibly “R&B” themed weekly summer series booked by BAM. What kind of axe does legendary roots reggae bassist Robbie Shakespeare play? A standard issue Fender Jazz model. He stuck to the hooks he’s famous for, holding down the low end, a couple of times reaching down for boomy chords during one dub interlude. No slapping, no Jaco-style showboating, just soul. Behind his drum kit, Dunbar was much the same. He kept the one-drop going, having fun during the dub sections firing off hypnotic, steady volleys of eighth notes rather than any kind of gratuitous showmanship. No wonder these guys are considered one of the greatest rhythm sections ever.

They opened with a long series of instrumentals, backing a simple, direct, rock-solid trio of musicians: a trombonist who doubled on vocals and dancehall toasting, harmonizing with the keyboardist and edgy guitarist who contributed a single aching, searing, sustain-driven solo early in the set. They went down into dub a lot, oldschool style, dropping instruments out of the mix and back in again, pushing the echo fader up and down again, the keyboardist adding the occasionally blippy flourish. The band stuck mostly with minor keys, enhancing the dark, hypnotic ambience. The best of the early grooves first sounded like a dub of Burning Spear’s Old Marcus Garvey but then turned out to be On Broadway: it’s amazing how far you can get with just two chords. The biggest hit with the crowd was a long, murky jam on Dawn Penn’s reggae noir hit No, No, No. The high point of the show, with its gorgeous bassline, was a dub take on Freddie McGregor’s Revolution.

Third World’s 66-year-old frontman Bunny Rugs, who spent five years driving a cab in Brooklyn before joining that band, came up to sing for the remainder of the show. Third World were in the studio with Gregory Isaacs during his last session, so they played Night Nurse as a tribute to the late crooner. Rumors of War morphed into a scattering of bits and pieces from Third World hits like Reggae Ambassadors, Now That We’ve Found Love and Committed. Surreal moments abounded.

Bunny Rugs told the crowd that since he’d forgotten the lyrics to a number from his solo album, he was going to make some up on the spot, but that didn’t matter, he explained, since “Di riddim wicked!” The second he sang the line “this chair is empty now,” a concertgoer abruptly stood up from his and left it for someone else – thanks, guy! In the middle of a long, dissociative cover of Randy Newman’s Baltimore, Bunny Rugs turned “hooker on the corner” into “cop around the corner” and then went off on a long, rambling shout-out to Jamaica, where he, Sly and Robbie were when all this stuff gained critical mass. His comment about the music reaching a global audience without any help from big corporations was wrong. Columbia Records spent a fortune promoting Bob Marley, just not when he was alive. The crowd reflected how far reggae has come since it was the first world’s favorite esoterica: daycamp kids and their caretakers in the back, a sleepy lunchtime office crowd nodding their heads and swaying in unison, with the hippies and a small but vocal Jamdown posse up front. For a country of 144 square miles, at least for a couple of decades, they turned out more great musicians per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Sexmob Find the Inner Noir in Vintage Fellini Soundtrack Music

[repost from sister blog Lucid Culture while the ongoing May concert calendar update continues]

Over the years, with his long-running quartet Sexmob, the Millennial Territory Orchestra and elsewhere, trumpeter Steven Bernstein has made a career of reinventing repertoires to suit his distinctive, livewire style, veering from the sunnier side of the street (Sly Stone) into the shadows (John Barry’s James Bond scores). One of Bernstein’s more ambitious and wildly successful efforts with Sexmob, a collection of Nino Rota themes to Fellini films titled Cinema Circus & Spaghetti, is out now. It’s an interesting coincidence that of all the jazz albums that have come out so far in 2013, the two that pack the biggest wallop are both collections of film music from trumpeters: this one, and Ibrahim Maalouf‘s Wind (itself a homage to Miles Davis’ soundtrack to Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud.) What makes this one so good? Bernstein takes Rota’s themes and strips them to the bone, pulls out the inner noir menace and then brings it centerstage, dripping and lurid. Although some tracks on the album are considerably brighter than that, a gleeful macabre resonance pervades this album. One can only think that both Rota and Fellini would be proud. Hubristic as this sounds, the album is as good or better than the source material. While Bernstein is about a lot more than just menace and rage against the dying of the light, if there’s anybody who gets what noir is all about, it’s him.

They make the Amarcord theme a dirge, maxing out the original’s underlying angst, opening with drummer Kenny Wollesen’s gongs before Bernstein whispers in with a quavering microtonal Peter Lorre unease, Tony Scherr’s magnificently precise, purposeful bass guitar kicking off a slow processional as Briggan Krauss’ tenor sax joins the harmonies. It finally resolves in a menacing minor-key explosion: one of the most deliciously dark pieces of music to come out this year.

Juliet of the Sprits manages to simultaneously be a creepy shuffle and a lively dance, Krauss and Bernstein switching good cop/bad cop roles – and is there a bassist anywhere in the world who gets as juicy and incisive a tone as Scherr does? They strip the La Strada theme down to the underlying tension, first with a reggae pulse, then with a fluttering bop edge. Volpina (also from Amarcord) counterintuitively has the bass doing the lively introductions, then they take it to church with a New Orleans flair. The papararazzo theme from La Dolce Vita juxtaposes jaggedly rhythmic knife’s-edge intensity with a rather sarcastic interpretation of the original’s jaunty swing, Wollesen leading the charge. Toby Dammit’s Last Act reverts to the dirgey ambience, a long workout in downtown Asian inflections and moody reggae lin lieu of monster psychedelia.

The La Dolce Vita main theme strolls acidically along with a shivery bass pulse, a look back to Bernstein’s Lounge Lizards days. Zamparo (from La Strada) brings back the skin-peeling PiL dub vibe, while Nadia Gray (another La Dolce Vita interlude) and The Grand Hotel (from Amarcord) each get ripped to shreds in a merciless circus-punk frenzy, the latter reverting once again to hazy Asian dub. Scherr does Gelsomina solo, with lots of warmly rubato chords, a prelude to a sarcastically marching remake of I Vitelloni. There’s also an epic, bitingly bittersweet bonus track, Spirits of the Dead, Wollesen’s vibraphone and Krauss’ stately multitracking up against Bernstein’s leaps and bounds. Those who aren’t already aware of it may also be interested in Hal Wilner’s 1981 Amarcord Nino Rota album, which gave Bernstein his initial inspiration for this one. Best jazz album of 2013? One of them, without a doubt.

How Many Times Can You Hear the Same Reggae Song Before You Go Insane?

When Romanian gypsy band Mahala Rai Banda recorded their hit Balkan Reggae a few years back, it was an appreciative shout-out from one hot ghetto band to the thousands of others in another time zone who may have inspired it. Now the song’s come full circle with the Balkan Reggae Remixed compilation, a bunch of Jamaicans (and Jamaican soundalikes) doing their own  thing with the song. From a 2013 perspective, the original seems a lot less surreal: a brooding roots reggae groove with a cimbalom? Why the hell not?

By that standard, the new mixes are even trippier – a New Yorker would call this “Mehanata music.” What’s coolest is that most of them are so different that you forget that underneath, they’re all the same song. La Cherga’s version has a vocal cameo from Adisa Zvekic that starts out pretty cliched but then gets reprocessed with a weird, ghostly tone-bending effect. Nick Manasseh’s version has Gregory Fabulous’ skibbitty-doo skanking and constant call to “soundboy” for no real reason at all. Jstar does a fabulously trippy job of stripping the song to its accordion roots and then back, adding silly stoner synth bass and video game-style EFX along the way. Mad Professor starts very subtly and then gets very unsubtle with the echo and the sequencer. G-Vibes gives newschool crooner Errol Linton a bit of funky wah guitar but otherwise pretty much leaves the song alone.

The Vibronics pretty much phone in their take; Koby Israelite add singer Annique’s jaunty, jazz-tinged vocal track. Kanka go for a wickedly echoey oldschool Scratch Perry vibe. By the time the last track, which doesn’t add anything, comes around, it’s time for the original, which ironically isn’t on this mix. Who is the audience for this, other than the limited number of people who plug their phones into a sound system and call themselves DJ’s? Probably anyone who’s in the house listening to those playlists.

John Brown’s Body Puts Out Their Best Studio Album in Ages

Imagine your band’s been on the road for the better part of twenty years. You can sell out pretty much any midsize venue you feel like playing. Recordings of your concerts – both the ones made by fans, and your own, which you give away for free – are shared and prized by collectors around the world. Why on earth would you make a studio album – let alone one that sounds ok on phone earbuds, but which sounds AMAZING on a good stereo system?

Because you play so many shows that you’re bound to sell out whatever you manufacture? Because people who are stoned enough will buy pretty much anything? Or maybe just because the band is in a good place right now and you want to document this particular period in its history? Maybe all of the above. Veteram roots reggae band John Brown’s Body are playing Brooklyn Bowl tonight around 9 and as of this afternoon, it isn’t sold out yet – get to the venue by 8 and you should be fine. And you can pick up their new album Kings & Queens, just out from the folks at Easy Star Records, if you want a souvenir that sounds as good as the concert.

John Brown’s Body has been making solidly decent album since the early 90s. They used to have more of a dub vibe, with wah-wah on the keys of all things, and more orthodox, “praise Jah” type lyrics. These days, they’re louder and more driving, Mike Keenan’s guitar pushing the music with Nate Edgar’s bass and Tommy Benedettt’s drums, Jon Petronzio’s keys adding a dubwise edge, their killer horn section usually lighting the way melodywise.

The opening track on the new album has the hook in the bass – it’s irresistible, just like the horn charts. Although trumpeter Sam Dechenne, saxophonist Drew Sayers and trombonist Scott Flynn – who write all their own arrangements – look back to vintage 1960s Motown and soul, the brass on John Brown’s Body albums and this one especially is good enough to recommend to gypsy music fans. They follow with a big anthemic sway on the second track, Invitation (which sounds like “invocation” – it’s that kind of thing).

The Burning Spear influence is all over this record. Track three, Plantation, reminds of Man in the Hills, a snowstorm of keyboard EFX kicking off a brief bass-and-drum interlude before the song picks up again.Shine Bright has the gleaming horns and stutter pulse of late 80s Spear mixed with jazzy 70s Stylistics-style ballad chords. And just as Jah Spear did for one of his heros, Marcus Garvey, JBB finally send a shout out to the guy whose name they took – and reference Old Marcus Garvey along the way.

Empty Hands has a noir Ghost Town/Satta Massaganna arrangement to match its  “Mr. Officer leave me alone” lyric with a little hip-hop vibe as it winds out. Fall on Deep sounds like a Marley love ballad from the Kaya days. Dust Bowl might be the best track here, with its big, intense, swirly minor-key ambience and ominous global warming-era lyrics. By contrast, The Battle reverts to the band’s more anxious, stripped-down spiritually-minded sound from the Kevin Kinsella days back in the 90s, frontman Elliot Martin letting his vocals linger (and is that autotune or just some weird flange effect on the harmonies?!?).

As far as horns go, the arrangements on the dub-influenced Starver are gorgeously dark and bluesy; on Deep Summer, arguably the album’s best track, they’re warm, enveloping and absolutely beautiful. The album closes with Searchlight, which is not a reggae song – it’s a big mid 80s style new wave pop anthem with a sequencer, like ZZ Top used to use. It also offers a nod to P-Funk, sonically if not rhythmically. It sounds suspiciously like it was written to close a show on a, um, high note, a big singalong where everybody in the choom gang who hasn’t reached total absorption yet gets an excuse to raise their lighter to their lips one final time.

Jah Wobble and Keith Levene Revisit New Wave History with Their First Full-Length Album Together Since 1979

The musical core of classic-era Public Image Ltd., bassist Jah Wobble and guitarist Keith Levene, reunited memorably last year, touring and then releasing then their Metal Box in Dub ep. Today marks the release of Yin & Yang, Levene’s triumphant full-length comeback album with Wobble, drummer Marc Layton-Bennett, trumpeter Sean Corby and a handful of guests. As a paradigm-shifter, Levene’s influence cannot be underestimated: echoes of his overtone-drenched style extend from the noiserock of the 80s through dreampop. It is impossible to imagine Sonic Youth, or for that matter, My Bloody Valentine, existing without him. This new album is a mixed bag – not all the songs stand up to repeated listening – but those that do are a fond reminder that Wobble and Levene can still conjure up the magic and menace of their corruscatingly iconic work together thirty-plus years ago.

Wobble remains one of the most brilliant, incisive, adventurous bassists around: here he leaves the Middle Eastern and Asian sounds he’s become so adept at in exchange for a tersely murky pulse over brontosaurus drums. As with the songs on the iconic 1979 PiL Metal Box album, most of the new tunes are long and slow, Wobble’s deep dub drive anchoring Levene’s paint-peeling, incendiary, achingly acidic washes of sustain, distortion and overtones. He’s the rare guitar god who relies more on space than speed, minute timbral shifts more than rapidfire riffage. And yet, his sonic assault remains one of the most brutal in any style of music.

It’s ironic that for all its bleeding upper midrange guitar and some wry quotes from PiL’s Memories, the title track – a one-chord jam, basically – evokes the stadium-rock PiL as much as it does that band’s classic new wave era incarnation. Over a dirty, distorted reggae bassline, Strut layers Levene in terse acoustic mode, adding darkly Brazilian-tinged lines, muted strings radiating feedback – this guy basically invented skronk. A long and completely unsarcastic tribute to British racing green, Jags and Staffs has the feel of a good outtake from Metal Box or Commercial Zone with swirly dub production, Levene unleashing poisonous, rising and falling waves of sound behind Wobble’s geezer-rap vocals.

Until the song’s almost over, you’d never know that Mississippi was these guys – the vintage soul-infused southern travelogue could be the great lost sarcastic track from White Light/White Heat until Levene finally starts squeaking and skronking over a shuffling vamp. They brilliantly reinvent the Beatles’ Within You Without You as twisted raga rock in 7/4 time, Wobble wryly referencing And Your Bird Can Sing on the bass as Levene eases his way in and then careens around with the drums. The album’s most intense track is Back on the Block, a slow, tense, impatient, distantly menacing reggae groove that owes as much to Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack noir as it does early 80s Jamaican dubsters like Niney the Observer, Levene’s wailing, spark-shedding riffage contrasting with swoopy synth ambience.

The heavy-handed fake funk of Fluid reaches for an electric Miles Davis vibe, unconvincingly, followed by Vampires, a brief dub interlude featuring a marvelously deadpan vocal cameo from noir cabaret legend/dub diva Little Annie. The album ends with the Metal Box reggae of Understand, with a lame vocal cameo from one of the guests; the dub version, which closes the album, is far more enjoyable, if closer to one of the dubs from the Clash’s Sandinista than anything that ever came out of Jamaica. The album’s out from Cherry Red in the UK.