The ten best reggae albums of 2015 so far

Last week I presented my 20 favorite reggae and dancehall cuts so far this year. Now it’s time to present the ten best albums so far. I’d like to say that the competition has been fierce, but it hasn’t. This year has so far been a bit disappointing actually. There have been a few truly excellent albums though, like Protoje’s Ancient Future, Brother Culture & Manasseh’s All a We and Jahdan Blakkamoore’s Order of Distinction.

Those were my obvious ones and compiling the other seven albums were rather hard. Not that these seven albums are bad in any way, but usually I can compile a top ten list quite easily. But not this time.

There are sadly no female artists in the list. Alaine’s Ten of Hearts was on an early version, but didn’t make it in the final run.

The ten best reggae albums 2015 so farAnyhow, the list below collects ten albums and is presented in no particular order. No reissues or compilations have been included. If you are curious about the albums you can download this Spotify playlist with all albums. Enjoy!

Artist – album
No-Maddz – Sly & Robbie Presents No-Maddz
A joy from start to finish. Cleverly produced and tailored to No-Maddz with engineered perfection.

L’Entourloop – Chickens in Your Town
A playful and creative album boiling with unexpected influences. It will heat up any dance floor with its multi-layered sound, sweaty grooves and electrifying beats.

Jahdan Blakkamoore – Order of Distinction
Well-crafted from beginning to end. Jahdaan Blakkamoore is an innovative wordsmith delivering positive and insightful lyrics, ranging from sexy lovers rock on Smood Blakk Skin and Everything I Love to the encouraging and electrofied Faith, the spiritual Come Back Around and the more boisterous and energetic Ting Tun Up! with Lady Leshurr and Melodic Yoza.

Mad Professor meets Prince Fatty – The Clone Theory
Two musical heavyweights mix five tracks each and the result is a soulful and warm dub album complete with blazing horns, rolling drums and pulsating bass lines.

The Skints – FM
The Skints pull influences ranging from grime, garage and punk to summertime sound system reggae, dancehall, rocksteady and soul. It’s a tour of urban culture in its latest guise.

Protoje – Ancient Future
A cohesive set that balances rootsy reggae with hip-hop beats. But it also offers a few tasty slices of lovers rock and joyous ska. It’s definitely rooted in the 70s and 80s, but embodies the energy of the present.

I Kong – A Little Walk
The riddims are powerful and the backing has a sweet and melodic richness. This is effective roots mixed by Spanish maestro Roberto Sanchéz.

Brother Culture & Manasseh – All a We
Follows the success of last year’s anthemic Sound Killer and on this new album Nick Manasseh unleashes some heavy as lead riddims for Brother Culture to ride upon. It’s socially conscious and spiritually devout.

Jah Sun – New Paradigm
Solid, cohesive and firmly rooted in contemporary and up-tempo one drop reggae. Jah Sun sings, deejays and even showcases his rapping skills on a few tracks.

Mark Wonder – Scrolls of the Levite
Offers a tasty mix of beats and riddims with forward-thinking arrangements and song structures. It’s definitely Mark Wonder’s best work to date.

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A roots rocking compilation from Micah Shemaiah & The EDB Clan

micahshemaiah-shalalakJamaican roots revivalist Micah Shemaiah has joined forces with Exile di Brave and his EDB Clan for the collaborative compilation Shalalak, a set featuring eight vocal tracks and four dub versions courtesy of German engineer Matthias Reulecke.

Included are two excellent single releases from Micah Shemaiah – Reggae Rockit and Dread at the Control. The other six cuts are previously unreleased and features artists such as Scratch, Infinite, Philip Crucial, Exile di Brave and The EDB Clan.

Original Style is a murderous hip-hop-inspired dancehall cut, while Puppy Noise is something completely else. This is an acoustic jam with Scratch & Infinite singing harmony accompanied by a melancholic trumpet. In between these two opposites there are several contemporary and well-crafted roots reggae joints.

The sleeve of Shalalak is inspired by the classic Greensleeves 12” cover. It will both sound good on your stereo and look good in your shelf.

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Killer new Bunny Lee compilation on Pressure Sounds

untitledThere’s a ton of Bunny Lee compilations out on the market and there are several new released each year, which makes it hard to know which ones to get and which ones to leave in the bin.

You can however always rely on UK reissue giant Pressure Sounds. Their latest album collects 18 tracks – 16 on the vinyl version – produced by Bunny Lee and comprises rare sides, one-off dubplate specials and alternate takes of classics. Several being previously unreleased and transferred from their original 10” acetates.

Most of the tracks on Next Cut are raw, especially the dubplates, and most of these unique mixes are heavy, sparse and militant. You can hear the mixing engineer try and test delay and echo effects on a classic like Blood Dunza from Johnny Clarke. This version also comes complete with vocal interjections from an unknown deejay, possibly U Brown according to the excellent and thorough liner notes.

Two of the brightest highlights are however carefully arranged horn instrumentals. Vin Gordon’s bright Enforcement is a true masterpiece and so is Tommy McCook’s Middle Eastern Death Trap. But let’s not forget Barry Biggs & Tommy McCook’s Taptone Special or Wayne Jarrett’s minimalistic masterpiece Satta Dread, both followed by a lethal dub version. Murder style!

But this compilation is more than music. It’s also kind of a historical document since it gives snapshots of the recording process. You can hear false starts, shouting and studio chatter. And all this paints a vivid picture of what was happening in the studio.

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Heavyweight and spiritually devout on Brother Culture’s new album

brotherculture-allaweVeteran UK deejay and sound system mic man Brother Culture has teamed up with producer and mixing engineer Nick Manasseh for his debut album All a We, a hard and pulsating showcase album with twelve excellent tracks.

The album follows the success of last year’s anthemic Sound Killer and on this new album Nick Manasseh unleashes some heavy as lead riddims for Brother Culture to ride upon. It’s socially conscious and spiritually devout.

Brother Culture has for more than 30 years preached his love for Jah while setting sound system dances around the world on fire with his relentless flow. He has collaborated with almost every prominent producer or sound man and has gained unique skills that he and Nick Manasseh have successfully managed put on wax. Highly recommended. Especially the driving Land of Gold and the sincere Selassie Historical.

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The 20 best reggae songs of 2015 so far

We have now passed the midpoint of 2015 and that means it’s time to summarize the year so far. Below I have collected 20 reggae and dancehall favourites released this year. It’s always hard to make such a list because there’s a ton of music released each week – on vinyl, on iTunes, on Spotify and on Soundcloud. But I have yet again managed to dig deep in my archives and the list below might be of some help navigating the best releases so far this year.

20 best reggae tunes

All 20 tracks are of course highlights in my opinion, but a few shines a bit brighter than others, for example Torch & Bugle’s heavy Fire Man a Bun, Kabaka Pyramid’s fiercely sarcastic Well Done, Protoje & Sevana & Jesse Royal’s smooth Sudden Flight and The Wizard & Jesse Royal’s criminally catchy Raging Storm.

The list below is as usual presented in no particular order and the songs included are only singles or tracks taken from compilations. If you are curious about the songs you can download a Spotify playlist with 19 of 20 tracks. Download here. Enjoy!

Artist – title (label/riddim)
The Wizard & Jesse Royal – Raging Storm (Tropical Storm)
Fantan Mojah – Nah Vote Again (Live MB Music/Vision)
Dreadzone & Earl 16 – Fire in the Dark (King Dread Rumours riddim Remix) (Dubwiser/Rumours)
Torch & Bugle – Fire Man a Bun (Weedy G Soundforce/Gate 7)
General Degree – Feeling Irie (Germaica)
Kabaka Pyramid – Well Done (Ghetto Youths International)
Major Lazer & MØ & DJ Snake – Lean On (Mad Decent)
Samory I – Take Me Oh Jah (Rorystonelove)
Exco Levi – Love (Jugglerz/Reggaemiles)
L.U.S.T – She’s Pretty Like (Silly Walks Discotheque/Ram Jam)
RDX – Linky (Cashflow/Sounds of the Heart)
Tifa – Rock My Body (Mixpak/Blacklight)
Sizzla – Think Positive (Special Delivery)
Shuga – In Deh (Penthouse)
Luciano – Solid Like a Rock (Larger Than Life/Hungry Dayz)
Shanty B – Feisty Gyal (Maximum Sound/Clash of the Titans)
Protoje & Sevana & Jesse Royal – Sudden Flight (Baco Records)
Cornell Campbell – Good Old Days (Tuff Scout/God I God I Say)
Ce’cile & Vybrant – Mr. Right (Loud City Music/Ice Cold)
Sizzla – Cold War (acoustic version) (Muti Music)

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Soom T and Monkey Marc fire bullets on Babylon

a1533559532_16Indian-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.

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Top ranking sounds on new Byron Lee compilation

unnamedJamaican 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.

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Grand harmonies on The Expanders’ Hustling Culture

unnamedLos 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.

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Deadly digital scorchers on new Maffi EP

JTR17_Cover_FrontDanish 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.

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Devilish dub on Natural Numbers’ Field Reality Dub

nncoverThe 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.

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