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Turn the Tide 

Wednesday, Mar 21 2001
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DUBCHEK Down Memory Gap Lane (Unitone)

The musical pedigree is impressive enough: jungle-ist David Barratt of Yellownote and vocalist Papa Dee of Brooklyn Funk Essentials. Between these salt-and-pepper Portobello Road refugees, there have been forays into Fred Wesley, Pharoah Sanders, Frankie Knuckles and Photek. But by the third song of Down Memory Gap Lane, they’re declaring, “Mi Mama told mi Lee Perry was mi daddy!” That’s the kind of humor that’d probably have been lost on gloom-doomy drum-’n’-bass heads and too-smug-to-smirk acid jazzsters. While the vicissitudes of club-style sonic politics could have left Dubchek bitter or cynical, you get the feeling the slow, seductive Down Memory Gap Lane is not so much a hasty retreat from the hurricanes of fashion as it is a breath of clean morning air in a mythical, musical Kingston marketplace.

Post-punkers, then later Brit-hoppers like Massive Attack and Tricky, preferred their dub heavy with mood and dissociation. On “Ingmar Bergman in Dub” or “Turn the Tide,” Dubchek treads this path, building chaotic, Tubbyesque swirls of double-time breaks and clipped declamations of “I’m falling!” But as Scientist, Mad Professor and Scratch showed, dub could also be about weightlessness and absurdity, something Dubchek seems to understand like few other new dubstars. “Football Dub” flips the old Adrian Sherwood formula on its head, reducing the noise of unruly football masses to canned comic response to an all-star roll call. “Reparation” steals a likkle fire from Linton Kwesi Johnson, reversing the Middle Passage for an intriguing sonic fiction — the white-slave cries of Ghana’s plantations leave a black (dub)master shaking his head, “What dem want? I should auction off my antique-car collection? Dem people ridiculous, fi true!”

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“Peace O’ Mind” is strictly new school in form — straight-ahead drum break, shimmering synths — but the message is literally back-to-the-roots: The 18-minute epic ends with seven minutes of crickets. High-concept pranksters who radiate a charming gentility, Dubchek could be giving legs to the new-dub underground.

GORKY’S ZYGOTIC MYNCI The Blue Trees (Mantra)

Talk about perfect timing. The Blue Trees, the new eight-song EP from Welsh wonders Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, was released in the U.S. exactly one day before this year’s Grammy Awards took place. Considering all the rampant hype and “I’d just like to thank God for making me so fantastic” insincerity of Grammy Week, The Blue Trees serves as a very welcome reminder that gentle, beautiful and ego-free music is still alive and well, even here in the Eminem era.

An all-acoustic project inspired by the band’s “Mynci 2000” tour, during which they regularly opened for themselves with a short unplugged set, The Blue Trees is not so much a commercial stopgap (the next full-length Gorky’s album won’t be out until fall) as a tiny, perfectly formed jewel. Drawing upon the sound and spirit of the British folk boom (Bert Jansch and pre–”Sunshine Superman” Donovan are the most obvious touchstones), graceful tracks like “Lady Fair” and “Sbia Ar Y Seren” could well be forgotten ballads from the Middle Ages. “This Summer’s Been Good From the Start” sets the country-blues picking of the Stones’ “Factory Girl” to a sunny summer reverie, while a cover of “Fresher Than the Sweetness in Water” (originally by fey 1960s popsters Honeybus) only adds to the idyllic vibe. The instrumentals are mighty expressive, too — the fragile guitar-piano-violin interplay of the title track is recommended to anyone who wishes the Dirty Three sounded prettier than they do, while the harmonium drone of “Foot and Mouth ’68” conjures haunting images of blighted cattle being destroyed in giant bonfires.

Ultimately, one of the most charming aspects of this record is its unabashed humanity. While it’s probably true that nothing from The Blue Trees will make it into the soundtrack of Guy Ritchie’s next flick or be played at the reception for Carson Daly’s, ahem, “upcoming wedding,” a simple line like “Yesterday has not gone easy/But it’s you I believe in” (from “Summer’s Been Good”) sounds far more poignant and powerful than anything this year’s crop of Grammy winners had to offer. “Fresher Than the Sweetness in Water,” indeed. (Dan Epstein)

LOVE Forever Changes (Rhino/Elektra)

As the ’60s fade into a gauzy wooze-fest of goggle-eyed hippies spiraling in nutball freeform dance to buzzing soundtracks on grainy video, it becomes rarer and rarer to see that a great deal of that era’s music wasn’t motivated by altruism, peace and understanding, but by dread, paranoia and terror. These are the flip sides of the LSD experience, which was not mind-expandingly pleasant for all who indulged.

If this reissue is a testament to anything, it is that acid didn’t fare well on the psyche of Love’s front man and chief songwriter, Arthur Lee. Unease permeates all of his songs on Forever Changes, from paeans to snot-caked pants and death in the San Fernando Valley, to Dylanesque abstract babble, to the aptly titled “Bummer in the Summer,” all bathed in exquisite string and horn arrangements. Not until Steely Dan appeared in the ’70s was there such a phenomenal use of paradox: pretty melodies and sweet backups underpinning cynical, anxiety-laced lyrics.

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