// All these rugged sounds in discordant harmony, swirling like shadows in your mind, extraterrestrial raggabeats/trip hop broken down/post punk noise/machine soul riddims, The Dust Brothers/Black Grape vision and rock 'n roll in full effect — Captain Beyond and the MC5 and The Stooges and Blue Cheer — Paul's Boutique from a dub on the "Scratch"/Tubby/Bunny Lee tip and Cabaret Voltaire to Adrian Sherwood to Mad Professor on to Zion My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts Tackhead and techno's ramshackle symphonies in the night, 69 inna Black Odyssey style and acid dreams dripping down long neglected Chicago corridors, Da Tunnelz and Hashim lost inna Haunted Dancehall haze, In A Magenta Haze, a Purple Haze... after all, it's a Terminal Vibration fing. ***
Like the Island Disco bonus round, here's another brace of records that fell through the cracks in the Terminal Vibration schema. In truth, they probably wouldn't have if Chapter One hadn't been a placeholder. This might have found a spot between the Imperial Slates chapter — which this bonus round runs perpendicular to — and the Edge Of No Control chapter (even if those chapters already flowed rather naturally from one to the other). At any rate, it makes sense to cover it as we draw near to the final feature, due to its profound shaping influence on the sounds contained therein.
The focus here is reggae, specifically its routes into dub, dancehall and trip hop as the decade unwinds. With central concepts like versioning and dubs making their way into the mainstream via their adoption by the twin worlds of post punk and disco, at the dawn of the 1980s the sound was poised to reshape pop music to a startling degree. By the end of the decade, dubs and remix versions would become commonplace, spitfire rapping (itself in part derived from deejay reggae records) was everywhere and reggae/dub/dancehall was living large in a ragga style. What follows is some general riffing on a brace of these records, lying at the interface of ragga and the body pop...
This soundtrack is the perfect way to kick things off tonight. Babylon was something of a conceptual answer to The Harder They Come, replacing the crisp, peak-era reggae of Jimmy Cliff and The Maytals with a darker, smoked-out sound that made more sense in the era of post punk as the 1970s gave way to the 1980s. Crucially, this features cuts by British reggae artists like Aswad and Dennis Bovell, further bolstering its overcast atmosphere. Bovell , who'd had a storied career already as a member of U.K. reggae group Matumbi (not to mention productions for everyone from The Slits to Ryuichi Sakamoto), provides a closing suite of three moody instrumentals (the CD reissue includes seven more cuts in addition) that'll leave you wanting a Bovell full-length to get lost in.
I Wah Dub is that record. Recording under the name Blackbeard, Bovell goes even further into left field this time and turns in a selection of killer dub shot-through with deep space atmosphere. This exists in parallel with Scientist's beloved dub records of the era, like Scientist Wins The World Cup and Scientist Rids The World Of The Evil Curse Of The Vampires, which expanded on the seminal work of foundational artists like King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry.
Further deep space endeavors, this also illustrates the importance of British reggae in the form's next chapter. Starship Africa represents super-producer Adrian Sherwood's desire to cut a deeply psychedelic dub record with Creation Rebel, mainstays on his On-U Sound imprint. The tracklist is split between two suites (one to a side), the titular Starship Africa and Space Movement, belying a self-consciously proggy vision of dub that connects back to earlier forays like the Vulcans' Star Trek and Colonel Elliott And The Lunatics' Interstellar Reggae Drive.
On an interesting side note, thanks in part no doubt to the oftentimes apocalyptic themes tackled on the reggae of the era, there's a subset of records that have almost heavy metal imagery in their sleeves. Exhibit A is Johnny Osbourne's Nightfall, which was famously sampled by More Rockers' Night Fall (which I mention because it's a sample that I searched out obsessively back in the day). Even more so than dub, roots reggae of the decade flows quite logically from that of the late 1970s.
With similarly metal-worthy imagery of Haile Selassie driving a chariot pulled by lions, Aswad's A New Chapter Of Dub is a spaced-out, deeply psychedelic re-imagining of their fourth album A New Chapter. This entirely instrumental outing by the British reggae band adds a hefty dose of crazy electronic madness to the mix in the sort of record that epitomizes the vast new horizons that dub music offered at the dawn of the 1980s (and beyond, truth be told).
Just as there was an almost imperceptible shift at the turn of the decade as dub was codified into a genre in its own right, the deejay records that had been filtering in throughout the 1970s — records like Big Youth's Dread Locks Dread and Dillinger's CB 200 — reached a critical mass. The sound tightened up, as evidenced by Toyan's killer debut. He was practically the next generation to come up after the original deejays that cut records, and if you squint you can just make out the silhouette of dancehall's eventual rise a couple years later.
A record like The Lone Ranger's M-16 is — on the face of it — largely a continuation of the original deejay records, such as his own debut The Other Side Of Dub (from 1977), but in those tuffer, more compact riddims, you can (once again) sense the shape of things to come. It's interesting to consider that roots reggae's twin offshoots — dub and deejay — would turn out to have a bigger impact than just about any other music over the last quarter of the 20st century, with the twin forces of rap and remixology picking up where they left off to drastically reshape the popular musical landscape.
One of my absolute favorite records of the decade uses dub methodology in what amounts to six discomix versions, with the original tune followed seamlessly by its x-ray dub. The result is a record dripping with atmosphere, in which Andy's signature falsetto is cut adrift amidst the lonely alleyways of Kingston. The first clue is the stark black-and-white sleeve, which looks exactly how this record sounds in Pi monochrome. With the spectre of paranoia hanging over the whole affair in such a way that recalls The Parallax View, this also sows the seeds for trip hop's shadowy forays nearly a decade later.
With respect to trip hop, this record is interesting not just for its towering Light My Fire cover version (predating the radical Massive Attack reinvention by over a decade), but the way it signals a global vision of reggae. Aside from the U.K. (diaspora in effect), Jamaica had been nearly the sole source for reggae before the 1980s, when suddenly records began to creep in from all over: South Africa, Germany, the greater Caribbean, and in the case of former post-punker Snuky Tate, the United States. Much as in the case of hip hop, dubwise sounds captured the world's imagination for years to come, right up to the present day.
Conversely, Gregory Isaacs' records of the day represent the flipside of the coin, wherein the sweet soul of lovers rock melts into the crisp production techniques of the 1980s to offer up a vision of reggae that would serve as a blueprint for glistening pop-reggae confections for decades to come. Night Nurse even features ace backing from the Compass Point All Stars, who also backed Grace Jones and Gwen Guthrie around the same time. The blissful Cool Down The Pace — in any of its myriad versions — is the sound of Club Paradise going off in a placid tropical lagoon at sunset.
John Holt — reggae's original loverman — goes roots on the title track, with a radical reinvention that finds him following in the footsteps of Peter Tosh and repping the rastaman's herb of choice. Police In Helicopter is firmly in the remit of Terminal Vibration, with a rugged, cinematic sound miles away from earlier records like 1000 Volts Of Holt and The Paragons. Still, the remainder of the record focuses on Holt's softer side, so there's a little bit for everyone here.
It's a tough call which of tonight's records is thee most Terminal Vibration, but this would certainly be in the top three or so (along with Horace Andy's Dance Hall Style). Whip It is a nifty remake of the Dazz Band's epochal electro boogie monster jam Let It Whip, but the flipside is where the real magic happens. Dub Whip is a skeletal revamp of the tune that floats spectral fragments of the Harriott's original over a brilliantly squelching synth bassline.
Shading into dancehall proper here. Indeed, Yellowman might be the form's first star (shoot me down, I'm pretty far from an expert)? Zungguzungguguzungguzeng is certainly a crucial early tune to come out of the genre, featuring the man's non-stop top-of-the-dome toasting over a bass-heavy downbeat groove, all of which is colored by a quicksilver guitar figure and shades of echo-chambered brass. You can just tell a whole new thing is taking shape here. Also worth a look-in is the prior year's Mister Yellowman, this record's equal and the home of the brilliant Lost Mi Love (which, in a roundabout way, turns up in Terranova's DJ-Kicks). Needless to say, the vibes are once again terminal...
Tenor Saw's Ring The Alarm is similarly crucial, possibly even more so, putting dancehall's evergreen stalag riddim into the popular consciousness. Even queen of mediocrity Beyoncé covered it! The Original Stalag 17-18 And 19 compilation — complete with brilliant Limonious sleeve art — showcases ten different takes on the riddim, including Little Kirk's What's Love Got To Do and Lloyd Hemmings's Ragamuffin Soldier. I met Lloyd Hemmings once, at Trade Roots Reggae. He was cool, even signing my copy of Thirteen Months In Zion!
Getting more electronic by the moment now, Tenor Saw's Fever is — for me, at least — the tipping point into dancehall-as-we-know-it. Drum machines, fat basslines and gloriously technicolor synths are the order of the day. It's but a small step from here to Sleng Teng and Computerised Dub. This is one of those albums that everyone should own (at the very least anyone with a passing interest in Jamaican music), it's something like the Raising Hell of dancehall, a line in the sand smack in the middle of the decade.
Tenor Saw's liquid singjay vocal tone was undeniably something quite special, setting the template for a sound that would be endlessly imitated in the years to come. Out there in the digital glare of 1985, he was doubtlessly poised for a long and fruitful career as one of dancehall's leading lights. Tragically, his body was found at the side of the road outside Houston, Texas three years later, presumably the victim of a hit and run driver. He was 21.
Fortunately, the great Barrington Levy did get to have a long and winding career. Anyone with a passing acquaintance with jungle and trip hop has most likely already heard his rich, piercing vocals, while dancehall fiends could pick it out in a line up even if they were blindfolded and wearing earplugs. Pay attention now: the title track is one of the greatest singles of all time. No joke, it should be played on the radio as often as Thriller. Like Police In Helicopter, it sports a resolutely cinematic sound, this time in the circuit-driven context of digital dancehall.
The watershed moment in digital dancehall was Wayne Smith's Under Me Sleng Teng, which was produced by the great Prince Jammy. Has anyone rocked a Casio this hard?! Widely sampled and imitated, by everyone from SL2, Roni Size (as Firefox), and even Sublime! I have a Jammy compilation that comes complete with bonus disc featuring a documentary about the man, which includes great footage of Sleng Teng sweeping the Jamaican music awards (along with interview footage with Wayne Smith himself).
Jammy's companion piece to the Sleng Teng album is the awesome Computerised Dub, a record that — for a dyed-in-the-wool techno head — is almost too good to be true. There's no way these lightly-dubbed rhythm traxx, renamed with computer-era terminology sans vocals, should be so endlessly engaging! Tunes like 32 Bit Chip, Auto Rhythm and Wafer Scale Integration are the equal of anything from Kraftwerk to The Egyptian Lover, LFO, Yellow Magic Orchestra and even Detroit techno (gasp... oh no he didn't!).
Much like hip hop (again), the parameters of digital dancehall rewrote the rulebook of reggae, with old guard artists often adopting its contours and reshaping their sound for the new era. Take this compilation, which like the title says rounds up a selections of King Tubby's productions from the digital era. These crisp computer rhythms have far more in common with the productions of his young protégé Prince Jammy than rootsy slates like Dub From The Roots and King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown. Time marches on...
If there's a back catalog that one could spend the rest of their lives exploring, Mad Professor's Ariwa setup would provide plenty of terrain to cover. With over seven-hundred releases in circulation, there's whole worlds in there. I wish I had more of the things. Everything I do own is superb. This record features British deejay Pato Banton waxing esoteric over futuristic dubwise production, culminating in the utterly absorbing moonwalk that is My Opinion.
I often think of Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound imprint in the same breath as Ariwa. Both catalogs are similarly deep and varied, inspiring both awe and intimidation (where does one even start?!). Like Creation Rebel's Starship Africa, the African Head Charge records go some way to showcasing how far out into pure head music the label could get. Fusing abrasive post-post punk beats with heavy dub and tribal percussion, these frigid, towering beats could soundtrack any number of William Gibson stories (if the movies ever get made!).
Even if it did come out on 4AD (home of the Cocteau Twins and the Pixies), this ace Colourbox 12" is cut from the same cloth as Adrian Sherwood's wild On-U Sound adventures. The a-side is a cover of Jacob Miller's Augustus Pablo-produced smash Baby I Love You So, while the flip features the monster discomix-cum-spaghetti western groove of Looks Like We're Shy One Horse/Shoot Out. The secret square root of trip hop, buried in the dying embers of post punk.
More Ariwa, this is also strikingly forward-looking, with crisp machine rhythms that always make me flash on both Mtume's Juicy Fruit (the album) and Timbaland's syncopated r&b. The production here is perfect. Aisha herself is compelling, with mystical themes coming on like the split of Erykah Badu and Susan Cadogan. Famously, the wordless vocal refrain from The Creator was later the source of the hook in The Orb's epochal ambient house talisman Blue Room.
We caught a glimpse of King Tubby in the 1980s, and now its time to take a look into what the great Lee "Scratch" Perry was up to. Backed by On-U Sound's Dub Syndicate, Scratch turns in one of his finest records with both feet planted firmly in Terminal Vibration territory. This is directly descended from storied Upsetter records like Super Ape and City Too Hot, with all the implied madness that entails.
Gregory Isaacs pulls a Police In Helicopter of his own, with an outspoken political attack (decrying rumours of war) over a knife-edged dancehall riddim. What you hear between the lines in that swinging beat and decomposed orchestra stabs is the sound of the 90s writ large on loud Greensleeves wax two years ahead of schedule. I'm talking about ragga, the place where dancehall and rap meet up to rumble. You play this back to back with Guy and Tony! Toni! Toné! (who had ragga fixations of their own) and everything makes sense.
If there was one figure who embodied dancehall in the popular consciousness at the time, it was Shabba Ranks. He was arguably ragga's first global superstar, prefiguring the likes of Sean Paul and Elephant Man, crossing over with contemporary rap audiences of the day. Ruff & Rugged (which was reissued the following year, first under the name Ruff And Tuff and then Two Tough, both times with new sleeve art) predates all of that, offering up that dancehall mainstay — the head to head split LP — with the young Chaka Demus (just before his fruitful partnership with Pliers had begun).
The lines get increasingly blurry as the 90s draw closer, illustrated here by Shelly Thunder's Fresh Out The Pack. The opening My Name Is Shelly is driven by a hip hop beat that wouldn't sound out of place on an Eric B. & Rakim record, while Working Girl seems to follow Neneh Cherry's lead even as Dangerous delves confidently into swingbeat rhythms. Further complicating matters is a healthy dose of bread-and-butter, prototypical dancehall numbers like Defence and Kuff '89, rounding this out as a prime snapshot of a very particular moment (1989-1990) in time.
If there's a turning point one might single out (or at least one that I'd point to!), Junior Reid's One Blood certainly fits the bill. With its crisp dancehall riddims shuffling dynamically beneath deep sub-bass, spectral dubwise sonix and Reid's soaring vocals (One blood, one blood, one blooooood!), the beat seems to deconstruct and rebuild itself right before your eyes as heavy slow-motion breaks drop in and out of the mix. That's the 90s right there, and whole squadrons of producers spent the decade recreating those same dynamics.
British rap crews like Demon Boyz and London Posse had a natural proximity to soundsystem culture both sonically and geographically, thanks to realities of the Jamaican diaspora in England. Posse ringleader Rodney P flips freely between cockney rhymes and ragga patois over the course of the superb Gangster Chronicle, one of the original stone tablets of U.K. hip hop. I suspect these rugged breakbeat symphonies would appeal to fans of The D.O.C.'s No One Can Do It Better and Mekon's Welcome To Tackletown about equally, hinting at the wonderfully polymorphous nature of the era's mad stylistic breakbeat pile-up.
The Sindecut's mash-up vision of hip hop, r&b and reggae flies quite a bit closer to club culture than London Posse's grimy street portraits, with a surfeit of smiley culture post-Second Summer Of Love vibes running right through its breakbeat-driven uptempo dancefloor grooves. Still, there's a fair bit of ragga chat to be found here. Part of the reason the distinctly British hip hop of The Sindecut, London Posse and Hijack appeals to me is the way it refracts New York's rugged musical export through the prism of soundsystem culture, with all the intensely localized trappings that entails (shades of grime, long before the fact).
Much as was the case with fellow travelers trip hop and jungle, its a sound that likely couldn't have happened outside the parameters of a very particular time and place. In fact, one day I broke down and started filing all of these records within the trip hop wing of my record collection again. To my mind, trip hop takes in all manner of things from the avant-breakbeat chansons of Nicolette and Terranova's post punk-damaged racket to the Bristol blues of Smith & Mighty and prototypical Mo Wax/Ninja Tune-style downbeat. The warped abstract hip hop of the WordSound imprint is also in with a silver bullet, alongside r&b-adjacent figures like Neneh Cherry and Soul II Soul, and ALL the British rap up to (but excluding) grime (which true to form gets a section of its own).
Definition Of Sound's kaleidoscopic debut embodies just how blurry the lines can get, and was sort of the deciding factor in going through with the move in the first place. Coming on like a more low-slung rumination The Sindecut's club-tinged hip hop, it veers wildly between uptempo club numbers, breakbeat rap and dub-inflected downbeat with a heavy bottom end. It's sound evidence of the porous boundaries between the various sounds and scenes — all fevering away at the edges of soundsystem culture in their own distinct ways — at this point in time.
Equally emblematic (if not even more so) of ragga's all-encompassing nature at the turn of the decade is this compilation of prime Bobby Konders material, New York club music that straddles the line between ragga and deep house with apparent ease (these records came out on NY house stronghold Nu Groove Records). Of particular interest in this context, even more than epochal house trax like The Poem and Nervous Acid, are reggaematic dancefloor missives like Massive Sounds' She Say Kuff and Mikey Jarrett's Chartbuster (subtitled Reggae House Style).
Jarrett's Husslin' Slowdown — which similarly features the subtitle Strictly Dancehall — is just that, rocking a no-nonsense pepperseed riddim. Konders wound up putting out the awesome Bobby Konders & Massive Sounds two years later, a moody outing at the axis of club music and ragga that I've always thought of as a sort of American Blue Lines, before slipping into his natural ragga state thereafter as the mastermind of the Massive B setup.
Speaking of Blue Lines, Bristol was really heating up around this point in time, quickly becoming a focal point of the industry machine and hotbed of musical activity, with not only Massive Attack but the great Smith & Mighty making waves in the mainstream. Falsetto sensation Carlton's debut album was also Smith & Mighty's first full-length production outing, picking up where they left off with records like Walk On..., Massive's Any Love and Fresh 4's Wishing On A Star.
The Call Is Strong is a sumptuously produced tour de force that fuses a languid take on club culture with heady dub vibes in a stirring selection of reggae-inflected gems like Cool With Nature and Do You Dream. I've always suspected Andrew Weatherall must have been a huge fan of this record, as the album he later produced for One Dove seemed to freely recall this LP’s hazy dreamtime atmosphere, all wrapped around the gossamer vocals of Dot Allison.
Blue Lines is often touted as one of the turning points in modern music, and it's a crucial record sure 'nuff. Still, the attempt of journalists to get a handle on new musical developments can often divorce such records from their original context, elevating them but also in strange a sleight-of-hand suggesting that there's nothing else to see here. Not the case, not the case at all. For instance, the Carlton record is undeniably a fellow traveler, and song-for-song is every bit its equal. What's more, I think it's illuminating to hear Blue Lines as a particularly moody, introspective take on the heady space between dub and hip hop at the time.
Right off the bat, one could point to Horace Andy's presence as a literal connection to Jamaica, but then take something like the mighty Five Man Army, which plays like hardcore ragga in smoke-blurred slow-motion. The baritone presence of Daddy G on the mic foregrounded here (which would sadly become more and more rare on the later records), coming as an added bonus and further driving the point home. A stone cold classic, no question. So if you want to hear what the Bristol blues are all about, by all means start here... all I ask is that you keep digging deeper!
If Bristol had club culture's downbeat underbelly ragga soundclash on lock, then Shut Up And Dance were runnin' the ardkore side of things. In parallel to their own records, the duo produced a series of brilliant 12"s around The Ragga Twins' winning machine-gun interplay, culminating in the Twins' phenomenal debut, one of the great albums and signposts of the early nineties. Tunes like Ragga Trip and Illegal Gunshot are among the greatest breakbeat/dancehall mash-ups ever, while the dead-eyed minimalism of 18" Speaker fills out into a killer instrumental that somehow manages the trick of perpetually sounding like it came out yesterday.
Like Rough & Rugged, this is another head-to-head dancehall split. Die Hard Pt. 1 pits Cutty Ranks against Tony Rebel, with one side dedicated to each of them. The beats here wickedly stripped-down to their electronic foundation, with naught more than a machine riddim and keyboard bleeps building to an utterly infectious backing (see Pon Mi Nozzle, a particular highlight). The Cutty Ranks side hits harder, with gruff ragga chat the order of the day, while Tony Rebel's is the sweeter, showcasing a nimble toasting that often slips into dulcet singjay tones.
Chaka Demus & Pliers — who started out as solo performers in their own right in the mid-eighties — teamed up at the end of the decade to become one of the great duos in ragga, a true sensation. 1993's Murder She Wrote captures the team at the peak of their crossover powers, with straight-up dancehall like Friday Evening and the title track vying with chilled pop ragga like I Wanna Be Your Man and Tease Me. The big surprise is an utterly infectious cover of The Isley Brothers' Twist And Shout (is there any other kind), which was thankfully tacked onto the American release as the opening track.
Alongside The Call Is Strong, this four-track EP was the only real fruit to come of Smith & Mighty's ill-fated deal with FFRR. The remit here is rootsy breakbeat, with tunes like Rub (with toasting from The General) and the rolling beats of Killa sounding like ragga jungle slowed down a few dozen BPMs, pointing the way toward the junglist More Rockers 12"s just around the corner. The moody Give Me Your Love is equally prescient, offering a glimpse of the dubbed-out majesty the duo would pursue over the course of their next few records.
After a handful of records on their newly-minted More Rockers setup, Smith & Mighty made their triumphant return with Bass Is Maternal, a killer selection of signature vocal cuts and rootsy, dubbed-out instrumentals. Despite an initially lukewarm reception, the record's gone done as a stone cold classic. Down In Rwanda features Andy Scholes' spectral falsetto over mid-tempo junglist breaks, while Maybe For Dub and Closer touch down with digi-dub vibes in full effect (a side of their sound that has come to fore in the ensuing years in the form of reissues, first with Brain Scan in 2003 and then last year's revelatory compilation Ashley Road Sessions 88-94).
In passing, I've got to throw some love General Public's way. This album was crucial for me at the time. Pops was a huge fan of the band going back to its origins in The English Beat, and this got massive play around the house. I remember coming home after my last day of school to find him dubbing the newly-purchased CD to cassette before we left on a road trip to Yosemite (that same afternoon, I dubbed my first tape ever — an Adam Ant compilation). Rub It Better features a heavy, almost live big beat sound, with a greater emphasis than ever on Ranking Roger's toasting on the mic (Pato Banton even returns to trade verses with Roger, just as he had on The English Beat's Pato And Roger A Go Talk a decade earlier).
I was gutted to hear of Ranking Roger's passing last week. His vocals never failed to add a flash of joy to whatever he appeared on, be it with his original crews The English Beat and General Public, or his own new wave/ragga/dance hybrid solo material. I can remember like it was yesterday the pure excitement when he joined Big Audio Dynamite in the mid-90s (culminating in the Entering A New Ride sessions) and later cropped up on Death In Vegas' take on Twist And Crawl, in which he guested on an ace version on his own tune from The Beat days. Like I said, it was always a pleasure. So long Roger, you will be missed.
Another stone cold classic. Like All She Wrote, this is ragga at its most inviting, while still managing to pull no punches. As an album, 'Til Shiloh is even more varied. There's hardcore dancehall in the shape of Only Man and It's All Over, downbeat ragga like Murderer and Sensimellia Persecution, sunshine roots in Wanna Be Loved and Not An Easy Road, and a smattering of brilliant pop like Complaint (featuring the smooth vocals of Garnett Silk), and Hush Baby Hush. The full, widescreen sound is of a piece with other mid-decade triumphs like Bass Is Maternal and Rub It Better, and as juxtaposed here, I daresay work rather well as an informal trilogy.
Along with Smith & Mighty's return with their More Rockers imprint came a slew rootsy jungle records credited to More Rockers the artist (much like Underground Resistance and Kemet Crew). More Rockers was a collaboration between Rob Smith and Peter D. Rose. The duo's output centered around two albums that came on more like a soundsystem captured live in the mix, flowing between ragga chat, sweet lovers jungle and tearing instrumentals with ease.
Like ragga's soundclash between dancehall and rap, ragga jungle's pile up of rave's breakbeat science and dancehall signifiers was one of the most exciting sounds to make a splash at a time when exciting sounds weren't exactly thin on the ground. What started out as a sampladelic art form inevitably led to actual head-to-head collaborations like Congo Natty's Code Red (as Conquering Lion) and UK Apachi & Shy FX's Original Nuttah. This compilation, put out by Greensleeves, takes the concept to its logical conclusion with an exclusive selection of tunes featuring a whole raft of dancehall luminaries chatting on top of killer junglist riddims.
Right around this point in time (1997), you started to get this fascinating squaring of the circle between trip hop, jungle, dub and techno. The Rockers Hi-Fi captured this spirit in their DJ-Kicks outing, with Farda P.'s toasting over a selection of dubbed-out downbeat, ambient jungle and dusted riddims with atmosphere to spare. At one moment, they even reached back into O.G. deejay with a cut from Prince Far I & The Arabs (the Adrian Sherwood dub of Long Life, to be specific), with a heavy low-end rumble erupting from within the surrounding crisp, of-the-moment beats in evidence throughout.
I don't know if it's just down to my listening habits at the time, but I've often though that Timbaland And Magoo's debut had traces of dancehall lingering about it, as if the sensimilla smoke had been digitized and beamed onto the grid, Tron-style. 15 After Da' Hour, with its methodical downbeat riddim and stream-of-consciousness wordplay, would probably be the most obvious pointer, with the added sweetener of Timbaland's ragga-esque fifteen after the hour chant in the climax.
Besides, as the decade was bookended by instances of dancehall's storming of the mainstream, it would only make sense that it would begin filtering back in around this time. Something like Bounty Killer's Next Millenium captures the fin de siecle zeitgeist, with Blade-style sleeve art that also manages to eerily predict The Matrix. The urban signposts hit even harder this time around, with guest spots from Noreaga, Big Noyd and Mobb Deep in full effect.
Was it Angel or Dissolved Girl that was actually in The Matrix? Mezzanine was an interesting one because it telegraphed the first clues that Massive Attack would ultimately abandon the rootsy flavor of their nineties work. The metal-cum-post punk guitars from Jon Harris are the first giveaway, as are the angelic vocals from ex-Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser. Tellingly, Mushroom Vowles split from the group shortly after. Still, there's a strong sense of dark roots hanging over the whole affair, dub pressure inna widescreen style, that would turn out to be hugely influential.
I first heard Roots Manuva the following year, on Leftfield's Dusted, which opened their long-awaited second album Rhythm And Stealth. The album's harder edges seemed to have similar signposts as Mezzanine, and Manuva's cameo was an undeniable highlight of the record. His debut album is even better. Like Rodney P, his vocals are poised midway between rap and dancehall, this time right there at the turn of the century. After this, you're talking U.K. garage/grime and that's a 21st century ting, no question. It's the perfect place to sign off, with the next millennium on the horizon and Terminal Vibration entering its final chapter...
- John Holt Police In Helicopter Greensleeves
- Tenor Saw Ring The Alarm Techniques
- Horace Andy Lonely Woman Wackie's
- Johnny Osbourne Nightfall Jah Guidance
- Smith & Mighty Down In Rwanda Andy Scholes More Rockers
- Aswad Dub Fire Mango
- Snuky Tate Light My Fire Animal
- Derrick Harriott Dub Whip Hawkeye
- Yellowman Zungguzungguguzungguzeng Greensleeves
- Massive Attack Five Man Army Horace Andy & Tricky Wild Bunch
- Toyan How The West Was Won Greensleeves
- Barrington Levy Here I Come Time 1
- Pato Banton My Opinion Ariwa
- Prince Jammy 256K Ram Greensleeves
- Wayne Smith Under Me Sleng Teng Greensleeves
- Cutty Ranks Pon Mi Nozzle Penthouse
- Aisha The Creator Ariwa
- Junior Reid One Blood J.R.
- Colourbox Baby I Love You So Lorita Grahame 12" Version 4AD
- Gregory Isaacs Rumours Greensleeves
- London Posse Live Like The Other Half Do Mango
- Bobby Konders & Massive Sounds Mack Daddy Mikey Jarrett Mercury
- Buju Banton Murderer Elektra
- Carlton Cool With Nature FFRR
- Manasseh Meets The Equaliser Surface Tension RIZ
- The Ragga Twins Ragga Trip Shut Up And Dance
Terminal Vibration 10:
The latest Motion playlist is actually an adaptation of the original Motion mix from a few years ago. I'd forgotten all about the O.G. outing before stumbling upon it about a week ago, and the general mood has fit the current drift of the Heights perfectly. All I did was shuffle a few tracks, but ultimately the songs remain the same. Despite predating the concept by some five years, this mix is pure Terminal Vibration. As such, it's a perfect way to gear up for the final chapters of the saga...
- Grace Jones Love Is The Drug Island
- Soft Cell Memorabilia Some Bizzare
- Liaisons Dangereuses Peut Être... Pas TIS
- Yoko Ono Walking On Thin Ice Geffen
- Talking Heads Cities Sire
- Can "Don't Turn The Light On," Leave Me Alone Liberty
- Morgan Geist Probs Environ
- The J. Geils Band River Blindness EMI
- Section 25 Looking From A Hilltop Factory
- Inner Life I'm Caught Up In A One Night Love Affair Special 12" Disco Version by John Morales Prelude
Motion 003: It's The Terminal Junction
Bionic mnemonic Roxy Music cover version from the mighty Grace Jones. Early Compass Point magic with its clash of dub, new wave and disco, this lays out the blueprint for what would become the prevailing sound in the coming decade. I've always loved the dub-tinged, vector moonlight vibes — and the SPEED — that the All Stars brought to this version.
Brazenly stripped-down synth pop from the duo that brought you Tainted Love, this slab of mantric 4/4 robot funk is the split of acid house in the same way that Charanjit Singh's Synthesizing: Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat was. That squelching acid line always makes me flash on 1998 and certain Meat Beat Manifesto records (particularly Prime Audio Soup).
Belgian industrial proto-techno from 1981. This is one of those records I remember obsessively searching out by virtue of its outsized influence on later dance music (particularly Los Niños Del Parque and this song). The latter so compulsively funky, you can practically hear it rewiring your circuits for the dancefloor.
Like Smith & Mighty and PIL, this music put me ahead of the curve on the post punk revival by about half a decade, which is one of the few instances I've ever been in the right place at the right time!
Yoko's icy new wave art-disco masterpiece. This Downtown New York monster groove takes everything she'd been up to with Fluxus and the Plastic Ono Band out for a walk on the dancefloor, predicting the likes of Björk and Fairlight-era Kate Bush in the process, and sounding like something that could have soundtracked a David Lynch film some ten years later. Lennon's mad guitar solo in the bridge (one of the last things he ever played) is just the icing on the cake.
More post-punk-inflected disco from arty New Yorkers, this nightmare funk finds the band working toward the multi-jointed polyrhythmic sound of Remain In Light. With bad jams like this, I Zimbra and Life During Wartime tucked away in its grooves (along with a host of moody, atmospheric numbers like Air and Drugs), Fear Of Music is an indispensable companion piece (both records Eno-produced) and remains an underrated record in its own right.
This ethereal, shambling groove from Can — one of the great institutions of krautrock — is taken from their third album Soundtracks, which is made up of a bunch of backing music they'd previously provided for films. Even taking into account its patchwork, archival nature — featuring material from both the Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki eras — it remains (along with the Tago Mago/Ege Bamyasi/Future Days trilogy that follows) one of their greatest LPs.
Morgan Geist was on fire around this time (2002), with the Metro Area records on his own Environ imprint even culminating in an excellent full-length album the same year. However, its Probs and the three-track Moves EP that remain my absolute favorite, placing focus on the minimalist interplay between uncomplicated digital rhythms and dubbed-out keyboards in a half-lit, skeletal affair that boils disco down to its funky essence.
Kicking off with a bridge that sounds like the Tron soundtrack, this ragged technoid mini-epic is taken from the album Freeze-Frame, which featured the band's brilliant reinvention as a new wave blues band (see also Foghat's Tight Shoes and Girls To Chat & Boys To Bounce). The twisting rhythm box beats in this shuffle-funk masterpiece are the secret cousin to Graham Central Station 'Tis Your Kind Of Music. It's no wonder The Electrifying Mojo loved 'em.
One of Factory Records' mainstays (alongside New Order and A Certain Ratio), Section 25 struck gold with this surprising slab of electroid proto-techno. Replete with eerie/angelic vocals, throbbing proto-Underworld synths and sequences cycling over a ticking drum machine, this Bernard Sumner produced gem would have fit in perfectly on Andrew Weatherall's Nine O'Clock Drop (I thought I remembered it being on there, in fact). Future Shock/Terminal Vibration music.
Disco stone tablet from Jocelyn Brown's group, from that period before they were on Salsoul with their whole futuristic Tron-style aesthetic. This back when they were still on Prelude. Despite the images of electro-tinged post-disco that mention of the label usually brings to mind, this sumptuous mid-tempo burner is peak-era disco (hitting #7 on the US Dance charts in 1979), with a full string section in tow, soaring in the limelight.
It's the perfect soundtrack for the home stretch of any run, bringing you back down those final blocks and up to your front door. Operating at the nexus of disco, post punk/new wave and even kosmische, it also slides in quite nicely with the home stretch of Terminal Vibration (coming at you shortly).
It turns out I hadn't said everything I wanted to about Talk Talk after all. My little tribute to frontman Mark Hollis evolved slowly in the wake of his death, and the piece wound up a tribute to the band as a whole as much as the man himself. In truth, I'd been intentionally vague when it came time to discuss this particular album because I'd intended to dive into it with even greater detail as the March record of the month (appropriately enough, on the first day of spring).
By now, everyone knows Spirit Of Eden is my favorite record the band ever released. However, someone recently asked me where to start with Talk Talk. After all, that's a good question. Their career took a number of twists and turns, the major transition centering around their shift from the new wave, dancefloor-oriented pop of their early records and the freeform blissout of their later material.
Nestled at the very center of the band's five album run, The Colour Of Spring is the axis at which their sound hinges. Blending the indelible hooks of their earlier pop sensibilities with the abstract ambience of later records like Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock, this record also features some of the band's most indelible songs (and with a group like Talk Talk, that's really saying something). As such, it makes the perfect place to start with the group. So take this record of the month as a gateway invitation to work your way forward and back through their discography, because this album — while wholly excellent — is just the tip of the iceberg...
The record opens with the casually unfolding rhythm of Happiness Is Easy, rolling on nothing but Paul Harris' drums and percussion for a solid half-minute before the first sparse accent of plaintive pianos enter the fray. The vocals of Mark Hollis enter with the twang of a guitar, as the song seems to gradually compose itself before your eyes. The throbbing, low-end rumble of double bass (played by Danny Thompson) drives the rhythm in a way that brings to mind Underworld at their most intimate, while the surrounding instrumentation takes on the mood of ECM's sleek European jazz, gently folded into the space of an unassuming pop song.
This sound often makes me think of Dave Stewart's soundtrack to the film Lily Was Here, especially the burning groove and sweeping atmosphere of the main theme, with Candy Dulfer blowing a mean sax in the grand central moonlight. Here, strings rise from the shadows — full of pathos — and underpinned by the organ playing of one Steve Winwood, all aspects swirling together over that unyielding, motorik rhythm as Mark Hollis leans into the chorus:
Take good care of what the priest says:
After death it's so much fun.
Little feet don't let your feet stray.
Happiness is easy...
In a surprise twist, a choir of children (credited as the Children From The School Of Miss Speake) carry the bridge back into the verse. At one point, a mutant horn staggers out of the mix (one of the hallmarks of Talk Talk is their utterly surreal warping of instrumentation into unrecognizable shapes). Showcasing the band's brilliance at shading between joy and sadness, the tune culminates in a sweep of uplifting strings, before receding back into an acoustic riff on guitar that accompanies the children's choir out into the long fade.
Mirroring the backing choir in Happiness Is Easy, the closing Time It's Time rides great waves of massed choir over a heavy downbeat stomp. In truth, it's my least favorite moment on the album, for a number of reasons. The drums are far too massive, with a crashing eighties sound utterly at odds with the organic crispness in evidence elsewhere. There's also a stark juxtaposition between the quiet verses and the booming chorus, whereas the rest of the record flows together quite naturally.1
Not that there's anything terribly wrong with the tune itself, it's just that the ragged execution sticks out like a sore thumb on an album that navigates such moody terrain so deftly. Subtle currents shift slowly in the shadows, with almost painfully intimate moments telescoping out into an all-encompassing widescreen sound like it were the most natural thing in the world.
The record hinges beautifully on this axis, as exemplified in a track like I Don't Believe In You, which is the split of Spirit Of Eden drawn in Spring's primary colors. There's a slow-burning intensity in the downbeat verses that gradually gives way to gorgeous Hammond B3 organ in the refrain. The tune is punctuated by a great ragged guitar solo from Robbie McIntosh, writhing in slow motion against the tune's downbeat blues with wild abandon.2 The song is suited perfectly to the album's vivid chamber pop arrangements, which in large part manage to transcend their time of origin.
In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that the band's bassist Paul Webb would later work with Beth Orton (under the pseudonym Rustin Man). I'd wager Portishead were huge fans of the group... one could even imagine the band doing a great cover of this tune. The downbeat rhythms — here and throughout this record — are more locked-down than they'd later be on Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock, prefiguring the sound of moody trip hop like Massive Attack's Home Of The Whale. Even if they're not as brilliantly freeform as they'd become in a couple years, the rhythms do retain a thoroughly engaging sound, with tactile precision every tambourine and shaker seems to clasp at your eardrums.
In stark contrast, the cascading, widescreen sound of Life's What You Make It represents this album at its most direct and radio-friendly. Propelled by an invigorating electric guitar riff (this time from David Rhodes) that shimmers across its infectious four-note piano stomp, the sound seems to have more in common with the arena-sized ambitions of Simple Minds, with even the guitars themselves bearing a striking resemblance to something Charlie Burchill might play.
However, the band is wielding their strange powers of foresight once again, because this sounds not like the contemporary Simple Minds of Once Upon A Time but instead Simple Minds circa Real Life (which came out five years later!). I wonder if Life's What You Make It did influence the Scottish group's latter day sound (especially the song Real Life itself)? I wouldn't be surprised. From the breezy backing vocals to the swirling Mellotron and those great crescendos of organ, it's all there in technicolor, adding extra bite to the track's double-edged title.
It's worth noting that my Dad was actually the one to introduce me to Talk Talk's music way back in the day, almost by osmosis. I grew up on this stuff! Pops was a huge fan of the group's sound, and this song was a particular favorite. His thing is a strong appreciation of multi-layered music, which naturally rubbed off on me with all my atmospheric obsessions. It was actually his old cassette that I was rocking out to back in college, after putting a tape deck in my very first car. Pops' Talk Talk tape captured a perfect distillation of the band's sound in 90 minutes.
The similarly epic Give It Up is a massive organ stomp cut from the same cloth, although I contend that it's even better. Alternating between subdued verses — carried by haunting guitar lines and fragile lead vocals — and a piano-driven bridge, where Mark Hollis sings:
Gotta give it up
Gotta get a second chance
Gotta give it up
Gotta get a second chance and the joke's just started
And then a great swell of organs crash across the track in a massive wave of pure electricity. I already liked to this stirring performance at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1986,2 which turned out to be the last year the band would perform live together. It's without a doubt one of my favorite pieces of concert footage ever.
What this tune highlights is the band's gift for moving from the most serene passage to a pure rush of energy with unparalleled grace. Check out how after the mad heights of the chorus, the tune subtly collapses back into the muted verse with that gentle guitar passage. Or the way the tune's absolute climax builds into another surreal guitar solo, its twisted notes burning out in the darkness before the massive chorus wheels back once again to conquer all.
Closing out with a stripped-down coda, shades of gospel in Hollis' ad-libs over the backbeat as the organ line finally resolves itself once and for all. It's a very close call, but this might be my favorite track on the album.
The other contender is Living In Another World, which plays like the severe younger cousin to Happiness Is Easy, burning with a barely-controlled, exposed-nerve fury. It kicks off with a bang straight out the gate, in a roll of piano thunder and a snapping beat reeling out beneath shades of organ, Mark's moody couplets and acoustic guitars strummed with a precise rhythmic fury. The whole thing gradually builds until the organs swell into a flood of raw sound in the bridge — Hollis' impassioned lead vocals haunted by ghostly backing in the distance — before a bluesy harmonica enters the fray with a wild solo cascading up and down the soundscape.
The other day, I mentioned how important this record was for me in the dreary days of (early) high school, and no other song dovetails more perfectly with those memories than this song: Help me find a way from this maze... I can't help myself. Word, Mark, word... I couldn't have said it better myself.
Mention must also be made of the phenomenal bassline Paul Webb lays down in the chorus, throbbing and shape-shifting through the rhythm in fractal counterpoint to the lead progression. It's the true nth power behind the song's central groove, moving with a lunatic precision against the chiming, twin guitar attack of David Rhodes and Robbie McIntosh. Notably, Webb also provides the ghostly backing vocals in the chorus, haunting the melody with another indelible layer of intrigue. Rustin Man strikes again! Taken all at once in a great flood of sound, it adds up to a truly epic vision painted in sound.
If Living In Another World exemplified the record at its most intense, then the downcast shades of April 5th, played out on a lone piano while tambourine and shaker mark out the time. A fog of mutant horns hang in the distance, the tunings seeming to come from somewhere entirely outside the body pop, offering the strongest hint of things to come. The vocals of Mark Hollis are at their most delicate here, cradled by the warmth of that B3 organ that comes rising from the mist. I'm reminded of David Sylvian's Secrets Of The Beehive, even if this came out a whole year earlier.
It's worth noting two non-album b-sides from the period, It's Getting Late In The Evening and For What It's Worth, which were from the Life's What You Make It and Living In Another World singles, respectively. Both tunes further develop this abstract, ethereal mood, which turned out to presage the direction they'd begin to take a couple years later. Still, April 4th is the best of the bunch, sounding like a dress rehearsal for Spirit Of Eden.
Appropriately enough, The Future Sound Of London featured the song in their mind-bending BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix 2 in 1995 amidst a sea of post punk, downbeat ambient and twisted psychedelia. Alongside iconoclastic records like Andrea Parker & David Morley's Angular Art, 23 Skidoo's Porno Base and Fleetwood Mac's Albatross, its drifting abstract ambience felt perfectly at home .
Chameleon Day is even more deconstructed, with detuned Blue Note horns hanging lonely over the sparse pianos... it's by far the most freeform, deserted track on the record, plangent sounds ringing stark against the dead quiet. Reaching beyond even Spirit Of Eden to the abstract deconstructions of Laughing Stock and the Mark Hollis solo record, its the record's most intimate and unadorned moment. With that Hollis croon accompanied by nothing but a lone piano and windswept horns, this tune could have come from the era of Chet Baker and Mose Allison, only with the wounded pain and vulnerability that comes with Hollis' voice. This deeply spiritual sound might have closed out the record brilliantly, albeit on a quite different note than Time It's Time.
It's sound that no one else could touch. Lying at the crossroads of the group's earlier dancefloor synth execution and the lush oceans of sound painted in their later music, The Colour Of Spring is where both sides meet in a flash of brilliance. It makes the perfect place to start with the band's music, but I must warn you... once you're hooked, you'll find yourself tracking their sound out in every subsequent direction. And few things in music are more rewarding than that.
Still, the flutes in the extended coda have a minimalist attack along the lines of Penguin Café Orchestra.
In some ways, it recalls the bluesy space rock of Roy Buchanan's You're Not Alone and even Journey's I Would Find you, albeit marked by a striking intimacy far removed from such deep space sonics.
Talk Talk. Give It Up. At the Hammersmith Odeon, London, 1986. Live Performance.
I was quite saddened to hear of Mark Hollis' passing. As the frontman of Talk Talk, his voice was the extraordinary foundation upon which his group's sound was built, a boundlessly expressive well of understated emotion, passion and burning blue soul. It was a sound that got me through some rough times growing up, wide-open as it was to complex experiences and emotions that the world throws at all lonely souls, buffeted back and forth by the tides of time and accompanying tribulations free of charge.
My understanding was that Hollis had gradually receded from view as the band ventured further toward abstraction, reticent, and ultimately dropping out completely after a solo album and a couple guest appearances in the late-nineties. The truth seems to have dovetailed with the legend somewhat, as it appears that he retired from music to be with his family and out of the industry's media glare? At any rate, peace to the man and unyielding thanks for the music he left behind. By way of tribute, here's a short walk through the records he made...
Talk Talk started life as a sort of synth-inflected pop group. I say sort of because from the beginning there was nothing conventional about them. I'd often hear them lumped in with new romantics like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet,1 but there was a darkness and depth to their music from the very beginning that placed them more alongside groups like Depeche Mode, Tears For Fears circa The Hurting and A.R. Kane than anything else. However, this being only 1982, Depeche Mode was still recording chipper synth pop ditties, The Hurting wouldn't come out for another year and A.R. Kane were still half a decade away from their first record... which marks Talk Talk's debut out as pioneering from the start.
From day one, there was a gravity to Talk Talk's music, a natural force to be reckoned with. Everything here is imbued with a widescreen, cinematic quality, as if it were the soundtrack to a film happening in your mind. Chart-troubling tunes like Today and Talk Talk bear this out on the dancefloor, with booming rhythms and oceanic synths soaring across painted skies as Hollis' vocals drive through it all like a low-frequency vision blurred in waves of confused emotion. His voice is deep in every sense of the word: low in register, encompassing vast emotion, and cloaking cryptic meaning beneath a blurred painting in sound.
If there's one song I'd single out for praise, it's the title track. Opening with curious sequences that unfurl across a mid-tempo pulse for the verse before dropping into a slow-motion chorus that could only be described as epic, with crashing drums, mile-high synths and Hollis' vocal towering above it all. The tune is etched in my mind. These songs were on a tape I used to play endlessly in college — early days — alongside the steady stream of techno and trip hop that one would've expected of me at that time. Strangely enough, it fit in there perfectly. Which in retrospect, is hardly surprising at all...
...given that the title track of their sophomore record was no stranger to the proto-house dancefloors of the Muzic Box and the Paradise Garage, expanding the mood of the debut's floor-fillers into ever more surreal terrain. The sleeve art above gives an idea of what to expect,2 mirroring the fragments and strange sounds pealing from the tune in every direction like the cry of a thousand distant birds. Indeed, there's sounds on these records that I can't even begin to guess where they came from.
Such A Shame similarly grooves adrift in an ocean of sound, its great synths smeared in sadness against that mournful Hollis croon, before the counterpoint sequence echoes the sentiment with just a glimmer of hope. Like The Party's Over, it's a firm favorite. In fact, the two songs seem to share a similar mood, with Such A Shame the understated response by a group two years older and wiser. I've often thought both tunes veered into peak-era Derrick May territory with their icy strings, smeared synth stylings and undeniably emotive thrust. The alien dislocation of techno is but a whisper away.
In contrast, my absolute favorite thing here is Does Caroline Know?, which abandons the rolling tundra for the infinitely more inviting atmosphere of a crystal clear tropical lagoon. With its almost juju-style interplay of percussion, sound effects and scurrying bassline against a great sea of synth — swelling and receding like the tide — its the group's unlikely holiday at the Pier. Blink and you'd swear it was The Neptunes! It's also a great showcase for Hollis in a playful mode, weaving through spaces in the rhythm and reacting to the waterfalls of electronic sound that slide back and forth across the track. In a roundabout way, it hints at the direction the band would take next...
Not that The Colour Of Spring is where the band goes tropical or anything, but you do begin to glimpse the two prevailing trends in the band's music: an undeniable drift toward a more organic (but no less strange) sound, and an ever deeper plunge into abstraction. This is where the group's knack for left field pop hooks is married to a loose, almost freeform jazz sensibility. There's definite shades of ECM throughout, and a strong affinity with the lush, stately soundscapes of David Sylvian's Secrets Of The Beehive.
From the opening bars of Happiness Is Easy, you can tell times have changed. A (possibly machine-driven) rhythm casually begins to unfurl as the song gradually builds around it piece-by-piece, with the slow accretion of spare guitars, throbbing bass and piano accents opening the floodgates to strings, organs and even a children's choir, all of which swirl together in a rich tapestry of sound. The massive, Hammond-driven stomp of Give It Up manages to turn on a dime between downcast and uplifting, while Living In Another World is one of the band's greatest soundtracks in miniature.
I've always wanted to share this awe-inspiring clip3 of the band playing Give It Up live at the Hammersmith Odeon, and now is undoubtedly the right time. Check that passion! Mark Hollis don't mess around. The funny thing is, this is exactly how I used to picture him singing whenever I'd listen to the records. There's just no getting around it, you can hear it all in the voice. Incidentally, this album always takes me back to high school (circa 1996), when it was a hit of downbeat introspection even greater than the by-then-ascendant Radiohead. Truth me told, even now, none of these Talk Talk albums ever leave my iPod.
With the positively sublime Spirit Of Eden, Talk Talk invented post rock in one fell swoop. The Rainbow starts with a lonely horn and a soft swell of strings — sounds that will come to define the record — for a movement of two minutes before the plaintive guitar line kicks into gear, the arcing blues of a searing harmonica heralding a lazy, loping rhythm. The mood here reminiscent of the cinematic trip hop that groups like Portishead and Massive Attack would explore as their music took a darker, more desolate turn about a decade later (on Dummy and Mezzanine, respectively).
The rolling waves of Eden creep in and out of focus on the interplay of bass and piano melting into guitar, all cut adrift on an ocean of sound where swells of organ come crashing in a rush of electricity. It's no secret that I'm an organ guy. I love me some Rhodes, and I absolutely adore the sound of the Hammond B3. This record is awash in it. Desire opens with a foreboding theme played out on a lonely organ, trading notes with ghostly guitar and piano, horns droning in the mist. Hollis haunts the tune in the quiet before the storm, and then the breaks come crashing in, mad vocals rising through the racket as guitars cutting ragged shapes in the darkness.
If you're looking for the one record that really gets to the heart of Mark Hollis' greatness as a frontman, this is it. Particularly in the flowing beatless bliss of the second side, which is where the magic of this record truly lies. The gentle drone of Inheritance, slipping as it does into a shimmering climax (shades of Sylvian again in evidence), sets the stage brilliantly. Parallels might be drawn with side two of The Isley Brothers' The Heat Is On, strange as it may sound. That record's ARP-damaged soul is similarly lush and downbeat, mirroring the almost ambient sensibility of Eden's second side.
Which would make I Believe In You4 roughly the analogue of For The Love Of You, with the drone of its verses culminating in the warm, spiritual glow of a protracted chorus, replete with calming organ refrain and angelic choirs in the distance. Indeed, this is positively holy music. This point driven home by the record's final track, Wealth, wherein Hollis sings in an understated gospel style against a sea of B3 organ. When it all transforms into the final progression (around the four minute mark), it quickly becomes clear that you're witnessing something divine.
The group took their abstract obsessions to their logical conclusion with Laughing Stock, their storied swan song that's gone on to have lasting repercussions. This has gone down as one of the key records of the nineties, and for good reason: transcending the time and place of its origins, it remains at home in the ever-changing now. I love the very sound of this record, even if the songs on Spirit Of Eden mean more to me in the long run. The playing here even looser than before, you'd have to go to seventies spiritual jazz to find something similar.
Songs like Ascension Day build on the framework of Spirit Of Eden's first side, even as they seem to deconstruct it into a blur of modal guitar. This sound also defines New Grass, with its gentle guitar lines wandering amongst tumbling breaks,5 seemingly every end left open and unresolved. The gently rolling After The Flood even plays like a fusion of all angles of Eden, a moment of culmination played in the band's new wide-open style. I'll tell you one thing, it makes it very hard to choose between the two records.
Seven years after Talk Talk's Laughing Stock, Mark Hollis delivered this solo album, which is of a piece with that record. In fact, Spirit Of Eden, Laughing Stock and this LP form something of a loose trilogy, with a sound that seems to gradually recede back into nature itself. Mark Hollis is the point when it all drifts up on a gentle gust of air through the leaves on the trees, back into the calm of the woodlands without a note out of place.
The man's first solo album would also turn out to be his last. In truth, he said it all here. This sparse, beautiful record is the embodiment of his oft-quoted philosophy, Before you play two notes, learn how to play one note — and don’t play one note unless you’ve got a reason to play it. The serene soundscapes of Mark Hollis seem to pick up where Runeii left off at the closing of Laughing Stock, keying into the rich seam of spiritual ambience with The Colour Of Spring and even pure jazz with The Daily Planet. It's hard to believe this record came out in 1998, but then it would be hard to imagine when it should have come out!
The understated, casual brilliance of this record has more in common with the torch songs of yesteryear than any contemporary reference points, with Hollis' vocals taking their deserved place among the greats like Chet Baker, Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday. He was that good, and in the context of a sound so spare and unvarnished, it quickly becomes clearer than ever. Serving as the perfect conclusion to the man's musical career, this album was the ideal landscape for that voice to roam once last time, into the countryside and beyond...
I never hear anyone bring up Visage though, which would be the strongest comparison among the new romantics, particularly their awesome signature tune Fade To Grey.
The group's sleeve art was always excellent, managing the rare feat of maintaining a consistent look and feel from album to album.
Talk Talk. Give It Up. At the Hammersmith Odeon, London, 1986. Live Performance.
I Believe In You was actually the album's lone single, backed by the brilliant blank-eyed riffage of non-album b-side John Cope.
In fact, the asymmetrical breakbeat to New Grass would later fuel UNKLE's Rabbit In Your Headlights, from the album Psyence Fiction. Mark Hollis actually sat in on piano (uncredited) for the song Chaos, from the same album.
In the final crisp days of winter, we descended upon the weeds that had begun to take over the Gardens, encroaching on anything and everything the way only winter weeds can do. Veering from trip hop into soul/techno/jazz and then finally rock 'n roll, the soundtrack set the pace for the long project of bringing the Gardens back to good order. Time marches on, and the Garden Grooves pulse on through the Heights once again...
Kicking off the weekend with Björk's Debut (not debut), which remains my favorite thing she's done (although Vespertine does come close). I love the raw acoustics of something like There's More To Life Than This, that walking bassline so evocative of the era's excitement and gravity. The sound here defined by Bristol's Nellee Hooper, who Björk drafted in for production after his sterling work with both Soul II Soul and Massive Attack. As a result, there's the unmistakable spectre of trip hop hanging over the proceedings, which is no bad thing... trip hop as in Blue Lines, Bomb The Bass and Nicolette.
Speaking of the latter, by my estimation, Björk got all her dance moves from Nicolette. Nicolette's (actual) debut album — produced by Shut Up And Dance — is an inspired mash up of skewed jazz songcraft, rootsical trip hop vibes and junglistic breakbeat science-before-the-fact. It sounds about five years ahead of its time. Stripped down tunes like I Woke Up... and A Single Ring hinge on the axis of drums, bass and not much else, while the otherworldly pop of O Si Nene and Wicked Mathematics ply a sort of skewed voodoo magic that sounds like nothing else before or since.
This trip hop soundclash from Massive Attack's man with the baritone pipes hit the shelves a solid six years after Smith & Mighty's great DJ-Kicks Bristol showcase, and accordingly casts a wider net with selections from Willie Williams, Foxy Brown, The Meters and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan all thrown into the strange brew. Hearing the awesome Gallic trip hop of Mélaaz's Non, Non, Non in the mix alongside Tricky's Aftermath just never gets old.
Tricky continues his mid-career renaissance with his latest album, which drives his sound further yet into Gothic post punk terrain. I saw him a year ago touring behind this album and the show he put on was phenomenal. Ever the visionary (my brain thinks bomb-like), Tricky's music manages the perennial trick of sounding remarkably at home in the ever-changing present.
The late-seventies album trilogy from Gil-Scott Heron partner-in-crime Brian Jackson is a stunning sequence that plays like the culmination of everything that had been wrapped up into 70s soul by that point. Secrets leads off with the impossibly lush and sensual Angel Dust, first heard (by me) on SA-RA's Dark Matter & Pornography Mixtape Vol. 30", which is driven by the soft neon glow of its electronic bassline and a tale as old as time. The remainder of the album follows suit, sounding like a Gaussian-blurred preview of all the best modern soul just around the bend.
Speaking of modern soul, Womack & Womack's debut is one undeniable stone tablet that the form tossed up right off the bat. Not particularly indebted to disco, it seems to draw its propulsion from somewhere else entirely. The title track is a great mid-tempo burner that prefigures the rolling, proto-Underworld neon vectors of Conscious Of My Conscience but the secret highlight is the graceful sashay of Baby I'm Scared Of You, which starts out smooth and mellow before gradually building to a resolute shuffle in the crescendo.
I've often thought that certain strands of Sean Deason's discography chimed in brilliantly with the prevailing trends in contemporary "urban" music. Something like the opening one-two punch of New School/Wisdom 2030 Mix bears this out, while Science Funktion comes at you like like hardcore rap's attitude translated into instrumental technoid form. He certainly showed greater comfort with jungle than just about any other Detroit producer, as the awesome Saxy Muthafucka Mix of the title track attests. This sturdy little album remains one of the great dark horse candidates among Detroit techno LPs of the era, and one that I still return to quite often.
Ah yes, The Velvet Rope. It's gone down as one of my favorites, and I never seem to tire of its convoluted twists and turns. This is an RnB that splits the difference between neo soul (and even trip hop in places) and unfussy dancefloor burners, with just a dash of the sentimental balladry that had by then become one of her hallmarks. At the time, I would have relished a radio station that played selections from this record and Razorback back to back (1997 bizzness, seen!). With a dash of Chez Damier and Romanthony, of course.
This bit of turn-of-the-decade funk grasps for the brass ring straight out the gate with the deeply chilled title track, which remains one of the great atmospheric slabs of soul ever committed to wax (generations of trip hop/hip hop/RnB heads certainly seemed to think so, if sampling was anything to go by). I remember when Kenny Dixon Jr. got interviewed at Red Bull Music Academy, he made the interviewer promise to play something off this album if he had to play one of his own Moodymann jams. Classic!
This was my first jazz album, and a natural progression from things like As One, Nation 2 Nation and Innerzone Orchestra that I'd been soaking up at the time. I suspect that this somewhat roundabout path isn't completely unheard of... I suspect a lot of us worked our way backwards from dance music. This is one of a select group of records I wish I could send back to myself just as I was entering junior high.
It's an easy album to take for granted — indeed, jazz purists hate it — but there's nothing quite like the funky synth attack of the title track or the loose-limbed proto-fourth world grooves that follow. Today, the wild abstraction of Sextant might be my favorite of Herbie's records, but this is where it all started for me. I've played it incessantly ever since, and that certainly counts for something.
This is cut from the same cloth, despite being separated by a gulf of decades. From the synths on down to the sleeve, this is a perfect elaboration on vintage jazz funk attitude in the era of broken beat. It certainly couldn't have happened in any other moment. Alongside Roy Davis Jr.'s Traxx From The Nile and Recloose's Cardiology, this had me thinking the loose agglomeration surrounding the whole neo soul phenomenon had reached something of a peak.
Stacey Pullen is one of the great under-recognized institutions of Detroit, with a wholly unique take on the music, ranging from Bango's tribal rhythms to the sun-glazed techno soul of Silent Phase and Kosmic Messenger's no-nonsense dancefloor moves. I only wish he'd had a chance to record more music at the LP level after this (if I had a label, I'd certainly try to get him to do a record). I'm forever threatening an extended feature on the man... maybe I should get off the dime and finish it up right quick!
This from the excellent run of Mizell Brothers-produced jazz funk slates that surfaced over the course of the seventies, in this case fronted by sax man Gary Bartz. This record happens at the axis of seventies smooth soul and the flowing post-modal jazz trip, much like the contemporary output of Weldon Irvine and Lonnie "Liston" Smith. Unlike the largely instrumental records of Donald Byrd, Bobbi Humphrey and The Blackbyrds, everything here features the homespun vocals of Bartz himself, prefiguring the general ambience of producers and musicians who'd moonlight behind the mic in the years to come. Appropriately, Bartz wound up playing on SA-RA's Nuclear Evolution: The Age Of Love.
This evocative slab of rock-inflected soul jazz is spiked with a heavy dose of contemporary psychedelia. With a vast sound arranged by Charles Stepney (during his storied tenure at Cadet) around the guitar pyrotechnics of Phil Upchurch, this dream jam session indulges in the under-explored terrain between David Axelrod and Jimi Hendrix.
This record ought to be much more widely known, lodged in all the lists alongside Dylan and The Stones. The Litter are perhaps most famous now for their blistering rave-up Action Woman (as heard on on the Nuggets compilation), but this record is another matter altogether. Existing at the precise axis between garage punk and hard rock, the band veers into proto-metal Blue Cheer/Sir Lord Baltimore territory with wild abandon, at times sounding like early Grand Funk Railroad and even the MC5. Needless to say, no headbanger should be without it.
After Peter Green burnt out and gave up the reins to what was largely still a British blues band, Fleetwood Mac wandered through varied climes ranging from acid rock to soft folk and even proggy psychedelia. Kiln House finds the band messing around with a sort of mutant rockabilly under the auspices of guitarist Jeremy Spencer.
This must have sounded so out of step with the prevailing trends at the time, but none of that matters today as we get to revel in this incongruous mash up of weepy country ballads and slacker rockabilly. Jewel Eyed Judy has the same unfussy melodic brilliance of Big Star and Badfinger, while One Together prefigures the burnished sound of Tusk's most gentle passages.
One could make the case that The Gun Club exercised the same impulse — plying a sort of rootsy, atmospheric rockabilly — albeit shot through the lens of punk rock rather than early-seventies soft rock. Their debut album Fire Of Love is usually considered the classic, but I listen to the ones that follow just as much (if not even more). In fact, I'd go so far as to say you can't go wrong with anything they put out in the 1980s. The Vegas Story is ragged and moody in the extreme, coming on like an unholy mash up of Repo Man, Pulp Fiction and Mulholland Drive in sonic form.
Trip hop quartet Red Snapper had the invisible soundtrack thing on lock in the 90s, a live band rocking in parallel to Maxinquaye and adding a dash of Can and King Tubby to the concoction. Prince Blimey's loping, bass-heavy dubbed-out sound is one of the great forgotten delights of the 1990s, picking up quite naturally from The Vegas Story as dusk begins to descend on the gardens.
The next day, my uncle was in town doing some work on the house so it made sense to go with Hendrix. My uncle's a rock 'n roll guy, after all. Electric Ladyland is where Hendrix really cuts loose in the studio — playing with edits and sound itself — and the record is accordingly thick with ATMOSPHERE. Of course, it doesn't hurt that it also has some of the man's greatest songs, from blazing rockers like Crosstown Traffic and House Burning Down to the sprawlingly epic 1983... A Merman I Should Turn To Be and Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, while heavy jams like Voodoo Child Slight Return and All Along The Watchtower lay the foundation for hard rock and heavy metal. Maybe the greatest rock 'n roll album ever?
This seemingly unassuming mini-album by the great grunge/metal outfit finds their sound burnished to a shimmering finish, led by the inimitable vocals of the great Layne Staley (I reckon he might be thee great rock voice of the decade). The very sound of this record is exquisite and totally unique, setting the stage for their sparkling MTV Unplugged album a couple years later, while the songs themselves are some of their best ever.
The moody, slow-burning Nutshell seems to tie up all of Dirt's loose ends into one moody, acoustic culmination of brooding grunge. I often think something like No Excuses isn’t a million miles removed from the sort of thing Larry Levan might have played at the Paradise Garage (in Van Halen mode), while I Stay Away is possibly the most inspiring rock song of the decade.
Moonshake's debut is ragged post rock avant la lettre, blazing a path out the gate of straight up indie rock into great churning waves of pure sound. I started out with the band's later album Dirty & Divine not long after it first came out, and then worked my way backwards. Eva Luna quite bracing and elemental, and even as the rolling dreamtime vibes pour over the circular rhythmic racket, there's a barely-contained fury bubbling just below the surface. Moonshake reside on the fault line that separates post rock and punk.
More rough 'n ready alternative rock, this time from the illustrious PJ Harvey. The connection here is that she actually recorded with Moonshake on their second full-length, The Sound Your Eyes Can Follow. I'm not ashamed to admit that I first discovered Harvey by way of the Batman Forever soundtrack... I'd argue that's one of the great compilation style soundtracks of the decade (which itself was something of a peak era for the phenomenon). Dry has the raw attack of all the best alternative, even blazing into Groundhogs territory from time to time. I only recently noticed that this was in Kurt Cobain’s list of 50 favorite albums, alongside Scratch Acid and the Marine Girls.
Pre-digital Jammy, back when he was still an apprentice to the once and future King Tubby. This is rock hard dub music on the order of contemporary Scientist and Brad Osborne/Clocktower. Immigrant Dub is an utterly absorbing downbeat excursion that rocks the splashing beats and percussion that his mentor perfected, before beaming the whole underwater trip into the eighth dimension. Strikingly tactile and three-dimensional, this music massages your mind.
Perched midway between surf and rockabilly, Link Wray arguably invented desert rock with a sound that conjures up imagery of souped-up heavy metal Triumph motorcycles blazing down a two lane highway stretching out into the horizon. This sound splits the difference between the Repo Man and Pulp Fiction aesthetics decades before the fact. Instrumental rock doesn't get much better than this.
And I love the way this album mixes prototypical Link Wray rockers like Fat Back and the title track with forays into demented swing like Steel Trap and the goofy proto-proto-proto-Sonics garage punk Mashed Potato Party, both of which are at first bound to disappoint fans coming from (killer) compilations like Early Recordings that boil the man's sound down to its red hot essence. Nevertheless, it's a great little record if you can forgive it for not just repeating Jack The Ripper twelve times in a row!
With the closing bars of Rumble staggering into the last rays of setting sun, the Gardens had been tended and everything was on balance in the Heights once again.
How can I be sure in a world that's constantly changing? Maxinquaye and Bristol, dragging breakbeats and bass from the dark side, dubbed-out shadows within and traces of the jungle bizzness in the mix. Mtume on the neon plane, slow-motion boogie equations drawn up in the sky, Lowrell Mellow Mellow Right On >> Massive's Lately and Shara Nelson in the soft afterglow of the night. Martina's lonesome voice in the ether three feet above the spectral crawl, shades of Dub Whip and Spying Glass (you live in the city) reggae en digital In A Lonely Place (you stay by yourself ) and the grimy breaks play on into the night...
So this is the aftermath.