Indian-born and Scotland-bred singer, rapper and deejay Soom T has teamed up with Australian producer and beatmaker Monkey Marc on the dark ten track album Bullets over Babylon, a set that crisscrosses boundaries between reggae and dubstep and hip-hop and jazz.
The bass lines are charged to the max and Soom T’s delivery is edgy and she successfully blends fierce deejaying and tongue twisting techniques with airy singing. Monkey Marc’s forward-thinking and multi-layered beats are atmospheric and dystopic with plenty of nods to hip-hop from the early 90s.
And even though Bullets over Babylon is the soundtrack to the apocalypse there’s room for a bit of optimism between all darkness and dystopic views on the world. Drill has a catchy, almost infectious, melody, and The Rebellion has a funky groove and shout-along chorus.
Bullets over Babylon sneaks up on you and demands a few listens before it can be fully appreciated. It’s refreshingly original and will keep your head nodding and thinking for almost an hour.
Jamaican musician, producer and studio owner Byron Lee is sometimes overlooked in the history of reggae. He had a middle class background and the sounds coming from him and his band The Dragonaries were often labelled as uptown and custom-made for tourists. Maybe his music was uptown, but in retrospect many Byron Lee’s productions often sounds as authentic as many other cuts recorded in the 60s.
This is shown on a new 20 track compilation appropriately titled Uptown Top Ranking. It collects classics and golden nuggets as well as several overlooked gems. The set is mostly instrumental and Byron Lee & The Dragonaires gives several classics cuts from the 60s and 70s the ska, rocksteady and reggae treatment, including Manu Dibango’s funky disco monster Soul Makossa, Herbie Hancock’s jazz standard Watermelon Man and the immortal Ol’ Man River.
There are plenty of dance floor fillers and the tempo is high – some might argue it’s frenetic – almost throughout the full album, but there are a few slower, organ-lead jams collected as well.
Byron Lee has been a pivotal figure in reggae and played a crucial part in expanding music from Jamaica beyond the Caribbean. He was part of taking ska to the U.S. and his studio Dynamic Sounds became a major hub for both local talents and major international acts like Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones. And Uptown Top Ranking spotlights an entertainer and an entrepreneur that pioneered the Jamaican music industry.
Los Angeles-based vintage reggae revivalists The Expanders are back with their third studio album Hustling Culture, an effort described in a press release as their first proper album as a cohesive unit, since their first album “was a collection of music from good friends making a record together” and their second set was a covers album.
Two of the bands five members grew up with reggae archivist Roger Steffens son and together they listened to his huge record collection. And their music is built on what they heard and learned listening to the golden era of reggae music. It builds on classic 70s roots with beautiful three-part vocal harmonies.
Hustling Culture comes with twelve tracks is fun, enjoyable and very, very easy to like. The three-part harmonies shine through on almost every track. And the charming Piece of Love is sung with harmonies through the whole cut. Lovely.
It’s melancholic, yet positive, conscious, yet uplifting. Hustling Culture will definitely add a bit of Californian sun into your earphones or stereo. Let it in. Just let it in.
Danish production duo Maffi is back with a fresh six track EP on innovative German label Jahtari. The set collects original 80s sounding riddims recorded with vintage equipment.
Killah Tape hosts two dub versions and four vocal cuts from French Colonel Maxwell and Junior Roy along with pioneering tongue twisters Peter King and Asher Senator, both from the UK.
All cuts are gritty, stone cold killers and the blazing performances and high voltage riddims won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Available on vinyl and digital download.
The second album from U.S. reggae producer and mixing engineer Tom Chasteen’s Natural Numbers continues to reflect the inspiration of classic Jamaican dub.
Field Reality Dub is mostly vintage-styled, organic and raw dub influenced by reggae luminaries like King Tubby. Yet the second part of this ten track set breaks a bit of new ground. In a press release from the label Tom Chasteen describes it vividly when he explains that some new dark light has poured in.
The riddims are heavy and have been laid down by a band including legendary bass man George “Fully” Fullwood from Soul Syndicate. He and the band pound out original cuts as well as versions of classic riddims. Vocal guests joining in this time includes the stylish Lone Ranger, Ranking Joe, Trinity and slick singers Tony Tuff and Edi Fitzroy.
This album is available on vinyl and side A offers thumping rub a dub-tinged dub with a few unexpected influences, such as slide guitar on National Version and a gritty guitar on the melodic and ethereal Rastaman.
Side B is more experimental and psychedelic with an unusual amount of guitar thrown in the mix. Dub of Shadows sounds like a dub version of Led Zeppelin and Seven Times Rise and Stars No Moon are both fiercely haunting with devilish percussion and squeaking guitars.
And on closing track Dawn Observation Tom Chasteen leaves the dub terrain altogether for a journey into something even more avant-garde. This cut is almost hallucinogenic with its abstract synths and sounds like a darker version of the intro from The Who’s classic Baba O’Riley.
Field Reality Dub is an inspired dub excursion and it sounds like Tom Chasteen was in an evil and passionate mood when putting this together.
UK’s Dub Pistols isn’t what the name suggests. On their fifth album Return of the Pistoleros there’s not many traces of this innovative and often introspective version of reggae. This album is more of a party-starter with its tight up-tempo grooves.
However, Return of the Pistoleros has two things in common with dub – focus on bass and a fearless approach to breaking rules. The band takes on a no rules approach on this ten track set, which successfully merges reggae, jungle, hip-hop and drum & bass.
Dub Pistols were formed in the 90s by producer, DJ, musician and mixing engineer Barry Ashworth and they have muted from a duo into more of band. They have previously worked with a diverse range of artists, including Moby, Horace Andy, Limp Bizkit, Bono, Gregory Isaacs, Korn and Busta Rhymes.
On Return of the Pistoleros they employ vocal talents courtesy of main vocalist Seanie Tee AKA Dark Horizon along with Earl 16, Chezidek, TK Lawrence, Specials founding member Neville Staple and Lindy Layton from Beats International.
This album is at times distinctively British fed on fish & chips and cider, but at other times the ganja smoke lies thick, such as on the rolling Sticky Situation. Return of the Pistoleros is all about having a good time and offers big beats, several anthems and sing-a-long friendly choruses. All spiced with a punky style.
Major Lazer’s new album Peace is the Mission is the trio’s most pop-oriented yet. This genre-fusion project – led by U.S. producer Diplo – has gone from working with hard and uncompromising dancehall artists to feature several slick and more polished pop singers.
Peace is the Mission is Major Lazer’s third album and it has been preceded by several singles, including the hyper-catchy MQ and DJ Snake combination Lean On. This is global dance music, heavily influenced by the Caribbean music scene, especially Jamaican dancehall and Trinibagoan soca.
The energy levels are high, even though there are room for slower jams, such as the dreamy and beautiful Tarrus Riley and Ellie Goulding combination Powerful and the hip-hop-tinged Night Riders, which features Travi$ Scott, Pusha T, 2 Chainz and Mad Cobra.
Peace is the Mission is electronic and electric. It’s dancehall for festivals and stadiums and a logical and mature follow-up to Free the Universe.
Jamaican singer Keida is an emerging talent on the international reggae scene. And just as several other notable Jamaican performing artists Keida started to get enrolled in music while at the Edna Manley School of Visual and Performing Arts.
She dropped her debut single Jamaican Boy in 2009 and has since dropped a number of singles. But her brand new EP Ebb & Flow is her first more full-body of work.
On this seven track set – including a dub version – she enrolls five different producers – Rory Stonelove, UIM Records, Natural High Mystic, Suns of Dub and Royal Order Music. The set includes three previously released singles, including hit songs Ganja Tea and Stand for Something.
Ebb & Flow is a tasty mix of cultural roots and blazing, yet thoughtful, dancehall. Keida is a talented lyricist with a conscious approach. She invites people to use ganja in a positive and meditative way and strives for social change and global love.
This fresh set shows a mature singer comfortable with both up-tempo and hard-edged dancehall as well slower roots. Keida sends an uplifting message encouraging people to change in a positive way.
Heavyweight Canadian producer and multi-instrumentalist Dubmatix is back with a new album, a twelve track set highlighting the thriving French reggae scene.
It all started about two years ago when Dubmatix was on tour in France. He met several producers and artists and when back in Canada he sent each singer two or three different riddims and let them pick the one they liked. They sent back the vocal cut and in the end Dubmatix created an entirely new riddim for each vocal part in order to showcase their talent and flow.
The French Sessions features ten up-and-coming singers and deejays from across France. The songs are sung in both English and French and styles range from rootsy reggae to hip-hop-tinged reggae and steppers.
Highlights include pulsating album opener Dangerous with Guive and Taiwan MC sharing the microphone, the ethereal Fais Tourner featuring Volodia, the bouncy Mercedes with Tribuman and the anthemic Are You Ready? Reggae Sun Ska with Volodia and LMK sharing vocal duties.
According to Dubmatix he has enough material for a second part of this exciting project and I’m definitely up for more.
In 2013 legendary UK reggae band Capital Letters got back together after an about 30 year long hiatus. They have since recorded a new album – Wolverhampton – released earlier this year. But their earlier material has also been reissued. Reality – an effort collecting 15 tracks originally recorded in 1985 – dropped in 2014 and their debut album Headline News has also been made available again.
Now it’s time for yet another reissue. Vinyard is Capital Letters’ second album and it was recorded and released in small quantities and with poor distribution in 1982. The new edition collects the original ten tracks along with unreleased material taken from the Headline News sessions and a few live studio recordings.
Capital Letters formed in 1972 and is probably best known for their raw and lyrically controversial single Smoking My Ganja and the band was among the first wave of talented reggae acts to emerge in the UK during the mid-to-late 70s. These bands absorbed the sounds of Jamaica and created their own take on reggae. Many of these acts strived for social change singing about the society around them, which was often marked by violence, racism and social inequality.
Vinyard is a prime example of UK roots with its many reality tales and Capital Letters deal with false politicians, unemployment and struggle set to tough drum and bass along with a pumping organ.
This album is rawer than its predecessor and it captures the sound of early UK roots nicely. The CD version comes with in-depth sleeve notes by renowned reggae writer John Masouri and you can read why Capital Letters have renamed Helsinki to Hell Sink I.