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!”
“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)
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.
Lee, already unstable enough (as evidenced by the fact that his popular band rarely set foot out of L.A., even at their peak), was driven right over the precipice by mid-1967. Love began as a churning garage machine, an unholy mating of the Stones/Byrds and Rising Sons 18 months or so earlier, and by this third record had morphed into rock’s first Goth act, combining the baroque leanings of the Left Banke with the sinister undertow of Lee’s much more successful protégés, the Doors. Lee’s eerie compositions would prove prophetic — within two years, his beloved Sunset Strip was virtually empty in the wake of the Manson massacres, the ultimate “bummer in the summer.”
Rhino’s repackaging of this disc includes the usual alternate takes, including a hilarious “Your Mind and We Belong Together” with Lee exhorting and browbeating his poor bandmates (on Forever Changes, Lee used session men for many of the tracks, as the excellent liner notes point out). That track, and the wacked-out and over-the-edge “Laughing Stock,” are the high points of the reissue. The case can indeed be made that Forever Changes is the ugly stepsister to the more optimistic (and commercial) Pet Sounds, the sound of a genius mind dissolving into Owsleyville and megalomania, never to return intact (Lee is currently a guest of the California Department of Corrections).
Thrilling orchestrations and nightmare scenarios, coupled with wild-assed ambition: This disc is what made and makes the music of L.A. so glorious — infinitely prone to overkill and overstatement, and not afraid to fall into whatever chasm awaits. If you own no version of this masterpiece, get it immediately! (Johnny Angel)
The Self Science (S.O.L.)
When Self Scientific released their single “Return” back in 1998, they struck a quick chord with disgruntled rap fanatics everywhere. The chorus — “Return/to the way we were/before the influx of drugs/and money occurred” — bespoke the frustration over hip-hop’s shift from transformer of the meek to pimped by the chic. At the same time, the refrain has become all too familiar among struggling artists bitter at their peers’ successes. Impressively, on their debut album, Self Scientific’s Chace Infinite and DJ Khalil live up to the anthem’s principle.
True to its title, The Self Science is more about personal introspection than about just endless brags and boasts. Chace is at his most honest when he talks about failed love affairs in “You Can’t Fall,” while he lays out his axioms on surviving life and strife on “Long Run” and “The Self Science.” But just to show he can also box with the best of them, his tenacious tenor strikes fast and hard on “Murderation,” “Best Part” and, especially, “Three Kings,” a collaboration with longtime colleague Krondon and Oakland’s Planet Asia. Equally impressive, DJ Khalil carves out a distinctly different soundscape from other producers, especially in his Latin-influenced taste for subtle, textural tracks rather than the same ol’ boom-bap. Whether it’s the shuffling bossa nova rhythms on “The Self Science,” the flowing guitar lines that infuse “Return” or the macabre organ stabs across “Dead Honest,” Khalil’s sounds are refreshingly organic and soothing in a world dominated by the aggression and artificiality of shiny studio production.
Like many underground artists, it’s taken Self Scientific a long time to assemble their debut — since the early ’90s, actually — but the patience has paid off handsomely. Self Scientific may not be able to return hip-hop to the way it was, but they may help it get to where it needs to go. (Oliver Wang)
EYEDENTITY at the Temple Bar, March 17
Sometimes I feel like trip-hop is just an excuse for threads of incredible music from several continents and four decades to tangle up in one genre. If that’s true, Diana Moreira Booker and Krishna Booker’s Eyedentity defines the term. The band is half blended family — the Bookers themselves met and married in 1994, and Diana is the daughter of renowned Brazilian jazz percussionist Airto Moreira and former Return to Forever vocalist Flora Purim, both of whom showed up onstage with their daughter Saturday night at the Temple Bar in Santa Monica.
Eyedentity has been around since 1997, but you get the feeling it only recently found its groove, with a recently released record, Perfect My Craft, and a protean ensemble of avatars representing just about every influence: guitarists Fabio Soares and Grecco Buratto trading off acid leads, keyboardist Rashid Duke and drummer Sandro Feliciano (whose facial expressions make him nearly as interesting to watch as he is to hear) and bassist Tony Black giving the whole mix a decidedly Afro-Brazilian jazz backbone. All of it comes together in Moreira, whose athletic singing is one of this music’s great joys — she orchestrates her soul-inflected vocals in perfect sync with Booker’s rap, but also manages a more ethereal range without sacrificing the warmth in her tone. She’s lovely to watch, beaming a smile that makes you think she knows what to do with that “residue from another life” that comes up in the lyrics.
The crowd who came for the hip-hop may not have known exactly which limbs to move when Airto came forward to play his pandeiro — a tambourinelike instrument he causes to sound like a wild animal — and spit his inimitable percussive vocals into the mike, but standing on this packed dance floor near enough to see the sweat on his brow was thrill enough for those who cared. And while Purim was not in the best setting to showcase her impossibly pure soprano, the sight of her daughter kneeling at her feet as she sang was a tableau vivant that spoke volumes about what it means to pass living, morphing music down through generations. (Judith Lewis)
Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci photo by Tom Sheehan; Love photo courtesy Elektra Records archives