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SSR Picks: August 26, 2021

Dennis Bovell is a name that keeps coming up in my travels through the world of records. I think he first came on my radar as producer of the first Slits album, Cut. His name came up again when I was learning about one of my staff picks several months ago, the classic lover’s rock track “Silly Games” by Janet Kay, which he wrote and produced. I’ve also been dipping my toe into the deep waters of the Adrian Sherwood / On-U sound universe of music, and Bovell’s name comes up again and again in that reading. When I saw that Lora Logic, the subject of a few of my staff picks, played sax on a track on Bovell’s 1981 album, Brain Damage, I knew it was time to investigate further. It took a minute to locate a decently priced copy in the US, but one arrived last week and I’ve been digging in hard.

Bovell was born in 1953 in Barbados, but grew up in the same London of the late 60s and early 70s that shaped so much of the music I hold most dear. Fascinated by the first wave of dub reggae, Bovell jumped right into the music world and started his Jah Sufferer Sound System, whose operation briefly landed him in jail, though his conviction was overturned on appeal. He started the London reggae band Matumbi in 1971 and that group had some success, which launched him into the world of songwriting and record production, and he was off to the races. Bovell is one of those people for whom a thoroughly researched discography would be miles long. There are experts who could tell you way more about Bovell’s music and career, but I’m coming at his work from the odd angle of being a white American punk born in the late 70s, so forgive me if my understanding of his life and work isn’t as rich as it could be. I know the universe of music he made and influenced is massive, and I am eager to learn more. Maybe I’ll update you on that journey in future staff picks.

I think the first dub reggae I heard was a CD compilation called Dub Chill Out. I’m not sure why I bought it, though I remember I picked it up at the same shop where I bought the Minor Threat discography CD that changed my life. Dub Chill Out must have been budget-priced, and I probably picked it up because it was cheap and I had read about dub’s influence on punk. I doubt I had heard any reggae music outside Bob Marley before that, but that CD wrecked me. For my seventeenth birthday my dad, recognizing how much I loved music, installed a high-powered amp and nice speakers in my crummy little truck. Everything sounded amazing on it, but the dense bass on Dub Chill Out was the ultimate, with the heavy grooves shaking your bowels when you were inside. It would be years before I heard PiL’s Metal Box, but Dub Chill Out prepped me for it and instilled in me a lifelong love of crushingly heavy bass.

While the Jamaican dub compiled on Dub Chill Out clearly inspired Bovell, his music isn’t a straightforward homage. Bovell adopted the heavy grooves and experimentation with studio effects, but I’m guessing the technology he was working with was a little different (and possibly more advanced), since his music is less stark and minimal and employs a wider pallet of studio effects. Like the Adrian Sherwood productions that have piqued my interest, Bovell loves finding weird sounds, and Brain Damage is crammed with them. Along with this maximalist approach, the synthesizers and studio effects Bovell employed on Brain Damage help date this record to early 80s Britain, and it’s steeped in the same vibes as many of my favorite records from that time and place.

Brain Damage’s eclecticism also stands out to me. Part of that might be the way the album was assembled. The list of credits is a mile long, with nearly every track featuring different players. I imagine Brain Damage’s tracks must have been conceived individually and compiled as an album, since there are dramatic stylistic shifts from track to track. While there’s plenty of heavy dub, there’s also ska and other popular music styles like disco and funk. I even hear a bit of the British music hall tradition in the songwriting, a style I know from its influence on bands like the Kinks, the Specials, and Madness. As with the sound of the record, this peculiar stylistic mix stamps Brain Damage as a product of late 70s / early 80s Britain.

Another thing that draws me to this era and the style of music is how heavily integrated it was. Lora Logic brought me to Brain Damage’s Discogs page, and the track she plays on, “Bettah,” is a heavy reggae track with political lyrics that still feel relevant today. As humans, we still deserve better than society is delivering for us. While the sentiment and the core of the sound seems grounded in the experience of West Indian immigrants in London, when Lora Logic’s instantly identifiable sax comes in, it’s something else. Logic’s sound is always off-key, brittle, and marked by a shaky, uncertain vibrato. With just the sound of her horn, Logic signals that Bovell’s demands for a better world don’t just apply to his own community, but all the freaks, the weirdos, and the marginalized. At least within this community, the punks and the dreads recognized they were in the same boat, and they valued one another’s culture, style, and creativity. Together they created something that likely never could or would have existed otherwise.


What’s up Sorry Staters?

For my staff pick this week, I’m writing about the debut LP from this band Lacerate out of Cleveland. I remember Sorry State carried this band’s demo tape, but I’m pretty sure that was like 5 years ago or something? I think I recall checking it out back then, but I couldn’t really remember how Lacerate sounded. Funny enough, I instantly connected the dots when I saw this LP cover, fashioning a similar big ol’ RAMBO knife for artwork just like their demo tape. After some time has gone by, Lacerate finally gets the vinyl treatment courtesy of Konton Crasher.

I gotta say right off the bat that the quality of the music and playing grabbed my attention. I think both the riffs and songwriting on this LP are truly excellent. The way this band constructs a song is right up my alley. I hear a bit of Poison Idea, maybe a bit of Totalitär, but also not really? The label’s description of the record mentions a whole lot of bands that are all from different countries and that to me all sound entirely different haha. But taking that into consideration, it is hard to put my finger on exactly what style of hardcore to compare to what I’m hearing. I feel like this is not a straight up d-beat record, and to me sounds way more like US hardcore—sure, maybe the more euro-influenced end of US hardcore, but still… I think the guitar tone is just about perfect. Bright and cutting, where it almost sounds clean, but still played with style and ferocity. It’s tasteful, sounding more like organic, no frills hardcore than like if the guitar player used a Metal Zone pedal or something. I wouldn’t necessarily say I have any gripe with the record, but I will say that the vocals are pretty unconventional. Not like they’re a hurdle by any means, but I think the vocalist sounds quite unique and took me a moment to get used to. Follow me here: the singer almost sounds somewhere between Tam’s vocals on Turn Back Trilobite and Born To Die In Gutter-era Discharge. Sounds hard to imagine, right? You might hear what I mean when you check this out. I was definitely pleasantly surprised to find out about a raging band I didn’t know too much about. For all you punk-ass mofos out there who are hesitating to pull the trigger on this stark, black & white record cover with a big Crocodile Dundee knife on it, definitely give this a shot. “That’s not a knife!”

Short and sweet this week. As always, thanks for reading.

‘Til next week,

-Jeff


Hey there, readers, and thanks for pulling us up on your computer device again this week. Another week with more doom and gloom in the world and iconic figures departing us, but without getting too depressed about that, let’s try to concentrate on the good things in our lives and stuff that makes us happy. As you are reading this, it must mean that one of those happy things for you is music. Snap. That’s why we are all here and why I love coming to work and being around music all day.

This week I confess to not having a proper staff pick to add to the newsletter. This entry is being composed at the traditional last minute with not too much to say, certainly nothing too clever or witty or informative, but hopefully you’ll forgive me. I have been having some ongoing back and leg pain issues that leave me pretty wiped out by the end of the day and unable to do much of anything least not write some intelligent prose. So, for this week I’m going to quickly highlight two records from our bargain bin I plucked and thought were cool. We try to keep a decent bargain bin section, so next time you are in the store, remember to look down at the floor bins and at the display bin by the counter and flick through. It has been said that our cheap stuff is the equivalent of, if not better than, the entire stock of some other stores. Maybe? I know we make sure there are always some goodies in there for the diggers and those on a budget. A great place for beginners and old hands alike.

From our Jazz bins, I found one called The Jazz Life! This was a compilation of tracks recorded in 1960 and 1961 that hadn’t been previously released and was compiled by Nat Hentoff, the notable Jazz critic and writer, to coincide with the release of his book of the same name. It came out on the Barnaby label, a subsidiary of Janus Records who distributed it, and was culled from unreleased Candid Jazz recordings. The roll call of artists playing on the sessions is like a who’s who of jazz. Names include Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Booker Little, Kenny Dorham, Eric Dolphy, Kenny Clarke, Booker Ervin and even Lightnin’ Hopkins. The Hopkins track called Black Cat recorded in New York is brilliant and worth the price of admission alone. Another highlight is the cut Lord, Lord Am I Ever Gonna Know, which was recorded in Paris with Lucky Thompson as leader on tenor sax and featuring inspired drumming from Kenny Clarke and some tasty piano from European Martial Solal. It’s cool stuff, man. Dig!

To contrast the hip, cool jazz, my next find was from the Funk and Soul bins and here I have selected an album on Motown from 1977 by Mandre that sports a great Daft Punk-esque cover of a robot in a tuxedo. The sound is pure space funk disco and is awesome. And as Space Funk™ is the new hip thing, I was happy to discover it. Mandre was the alter ego of Andre Lewis who was the keyboard playing founder member of the funk-soul group Maxayn, named after his then wife Maxayn Lewis. As an avenue for his experimentations in electronic sounds and keyboards, Mandre was the name given to his new project after Maxayn disbanded. Signed to Motown, he released three records, of which this is the first. His identity was kept a mystery behind the robot mask. For sure, Daft Punk knew about this guy. Naturally, these futuristic records went largely unnoticed at the time, but over the years curious crate digging DJs and collectors have made a lot of the records from this era desirable and hip again. Sometimes the prices creep up on these things, but for the most part, certainly in recent years, it has always been easy to find these late 1970s and early 1980s major label releases. Perhaps that will change as a new audience discovers them and the prices of classic era funk and soul records continue to climb and become out of reach for the music fan on a budget.

I haven’t fully digested this album yet but have been enjoying it. The track Solar Flight stands out and gives you a fair representation of the goodies held within the rest of the record’s grooves. Apparently late-night listeners to Philly radio station WDAS-FM would have heard this as DJ Tom Brown used it on his show. Fun fact, Andre Lewis was a tester for Roland and was one of the first musicians to take possession of and record with the Roland TR-808 and worked with Roger Linn on developing early digital drum machines. Nifty.

Anyway, keep an eye out for either of these in your local record spot depending on your tastes, but always remember to dig in the dollar bins as you never know what you may find. Until next time friends. Peace and love - Dom


Hi,

I’m sure a lot of readers have heard this band regardless of how new they are, but I am still choosing to write about it cos I’m sure there are some who have yet to hear this fuckin’ hot ass reel. I am under this assumption cos the youtube sensation No Deal uploaded it, and when they upload everyone and their mother knows about it. Ideation is a new band from Tallahassee, FL. I know it’s members of Armor and Protocol, but I don’t know much else. What I do know is the recording sounds amazing. Everything is pushed to the max. Regardless of its intensity the riffs are loud and shimmering in their clarity. The mix on the drums is simply excellent. Although this shit could’ve been recorded in a tin can and it would probably sound sick cos the drummer is so, so damn good. The songs are pretty short, ranging from about 50-80 seconds. It feels like they cram a lot into the short amount of time, though. The songwriting has a fair amount of change-ups. A lot of times when bands do shit like that, I feel like it takes away from the intensity or “pummeling” aspects of the songs. Ideation manages to have some of these characteristics, but executed in perfect taste. Their tempo/rhythm changes just bring even more raw intensity to the songs. The songs are extremely catchy while simultaneously filling you with the urge to punch the person next to you in the fucking face. It’s an excellent tape. I managed to get my copy of this tape from Tallahassee transplant, Seamus (What up!), but I am hoping Sorry State will lock some distro copies down soon. In the mean time you can listen and buy a copy here. Thanks to all my loyal readers and wanna give a shout to Ashley, Sabrina, Tonya, Tina, Gina, Sylvia, Debra, Christina, Sonia, Paula, Inga, Carla, Greta, Barbara, Inca, and Darla.



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