Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Bug-London Zoo (2008) album review


Kevin Martin almost never fails to surprise, and this new-installment of "The Bug" project featuring several Jamaican and UK dancehall and dub poetry artists is just another example of his prowess at creating something new and astonishing musically.

The differences between his first "Tapping the Conversation" (1997, with DJ Vadim), 2003's "Pressure," various EPs and 2005's "Killing Sound" compilation of hardcore electronic reggae, are vast here. The reason? A bigger budget, meaning Martin had more time to refine and actually be in the same room with the vocalists rather than through tape/disc-trading and internet transmissions, then pasting it all together at the end. Face-to-face collaborations tend to work best.

"London Zoo" edges more towards a dub sound without as much of the extreme hardness of earlier "Bug" releases, and vocals take more of a center stage role. Also different is how melodic and more expressive the vocals by the singer/MCs are, which makes for a very lively sound that must be heard to be appreciated. Still, to many this is going to sound very hard-edged and extreme. For the initiated, it's a new direction with a lot of dub layering and subtlety that could very well snag more mainstream reggae and dub fans.

"Murder We," already very popular in underground listening-circles as a single has vocalist Ricky Ranking very close to singing a mix of reggae and American R&B. While this isn't necessarily new in other contexts, it is here in a decidedly electronic environment. Ranking's vocal on the superb "Judgment" has an energy and a power that could quiet any remaining doubters and skeptics. But it's Warrior Queen who steals the show here with cuts like "Insane," and "Poison Dart," both of which can be marked as some of the more subversive cuts on the album for all the right reasons. When she raps, "What's wrong with the world? ...Has the world gone mad?," and when Ricky Ranking sings "...People killing themselves over [it]," they're both spot-on about the present state of things internationally.

The music production here is much warmer and inviting than on previous releases which could open things up more for this project of extreme electronics melded with the organic singing of authentic Jamaican and British dub and reggae vocal talent. Holding-up the UK side is the return of dub poet Roger Robinson whose wordplay is a real treasure to behold. His voice and delivery have a very powerful emotional side to them, existing comfortably within the musical environments Martin creates. Robinson's words and delivery are transcendent as always.

You have to admit, it's a good time for dubstep and hardcore dub and dancehall fans these days. These could be the outlines of the next big thing, the new punk, the new psychedelia. Get it before the final crash comes, it's good end-times (for Western capitalism anyway) music. Now, let's get Lee Perry on some sides before Babylon falls!