Record Review: The Black Seeds – Dust And Dirt (2012, Easy Stars Records)

The Black Seeds are further expanding their unique soul/funk/reggae blend. Dust And Dirt’ is balanced between experimentation and live vibration

Genre: Reggae / Soul / Soul dub

Region: Wellington, New Zealand

Artists Website: theblackseeds.com

Label: Easy Stars Records

Out of a vibrant reggae scene

New Zealand’s reggae bands have created a distinct ‘local’ sound, which is noted for its heavy soul/funk influences and its emphasis on memorable vocal melodies since the times of ‘Herbs’, one of the first reggae bands in the region. The so-called ‘Aotearoa Reggae Music’ scene has been a fertile ground for groundbreaking artists to emerge beyond the national/regional borders.

Salmonella Dub, from the South Island of New Zealand, have been instrumental in inspiring a whole alternative music scene back in the 1990s with their electronic dub experimentations which merged with the country’s reggae roots of the late 1970s and 1980s. These were some motives on which descedants rest to deliver their unique Aotearoa blend.

Indeed, during the ‘00s New Zealanders offered some of the most compelling records of roots reggae and dub/experimental music in the world. In a time, when reggae has become more digital, ‘clean’ and massively produced, Kiwi bands have been investing on musicianship, quality and boundless creativity comparable only to the full-band reggae scene of the US (Groundation, Midnite etc.). While NZ bands feature an experimental ethos they focus on harmonious musical forms and tunefulness.

The Black Seeds’ last two records were impressive examples of the Kiwi sound; 2008’s ‘Solid Ground’ became known internationally. After almost 4 years The Black Seeds return with their long-awaiting 5th studio album ‘Dust And Dirt’, which marks the culmination of a two year long creative process.

The Black Seeds – ‘Pippy Pip’ (New video/first single):

The album

‘Dust And Dirt’ certainly lives up to the high expectations. However, the first tracks will be surprising to any listener familiar with the band’s earlier work. There is more haze, psychedelia and rather unusual vocals.

Out Of Light’ drifts into a constant mind-altering flow with ambient-like suspended keys, a slow steady beat and distorted vocals bearing a heavy 1960s vibe. The title track sounds like coming straight from the annals of reggae’s most cult recordings with uncommon high-pitched, moaning vocals not unlike the Congos; the bass-line is deep guiding the song in the safe side while the horns are left to ‘draw’ heartbreaking melodies.

It is ‘Pippy Pip’, the record’s first single, that features the trademark vocals of Barnaby Weir again. However, the background music is unusual for the band; it is playful, polyrhythmic with a world/ethnic island vibe.

The funky beat of ‘Wide Open’ is buried in psy-smoke, nevertheless it comes back stronger in the fifth number ‘The Bend’, which is one of the most comparable to the band’s back-catalogue: Bass-laden dubby reggae/funk in the band’s trademark sound. ‘Loose Cartilage’ is an upbeat, playful afro-beat instrumental made to shake crowds in the live settings.

Frostbite’ is Slingshot’s twin tune straight from ‘Solid Ground’-era, albeit with a more arena-rock flavour. While ‘Gabriel’s Strut Dub’ is reminiscent of all those dub moments of the band, ‘Love Me Now’ is equally typical of the band’s soul leanings in a lover’s rock fashion.

The bass is again pronounced in ‘Cracks In Our Crown’, but this time more funky, rhythmic although a bit shallow for the band’s standards. ‘Settle Down’ is a roots reggae/dub anthem with an eclectic horn section, powerful vocals and a deep production. It is a voice against imperialism and a call for all of us to unite and stand up and all war and hatred that have been manipulated to live into.

The Black Seeds – ‘Settle Down’ (track-by-track with Banraby Weir):

Rusted Story’, album’s closer, could be even in a nu-funk compilation with electro funk synths and that unmistakable reggae/funk beat that The Black Seeds are famous of melodies.

Synopsis

The Black Seeds developed further their unique sound with ‘Dust And Dirt’. While it can be seen as the next logical step for the band, it holds more than a handful of surprises.

The Black Seeds are a musical galore, real musicians, constantly investing in their music, expanding and refining their sound. They enjoyed for the first time the advantage of endless studio time in their own home base ‘Production Village’. That alone allowed a more collective songwriting process as well as provided the space  to experiment with the band’s sound.

The joy of experimentation can be heard in a number of tracks while at least half of them, as Mike Fabulous (guitar/engineer) revealed in ‘The making of…’ documentary, were composed and recorded with the live performances in mind. The Black Seeds attempted to please everyone and I think it is at least fortunate that bands like The Black Seeds can find their place in the, perhaps saturated, global music scene.

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Check also in Freegan Kolektiva:

The Funk Ark – High Noon (2012, ESL Music)

Rebirth Brass Band – Rebirth of New Orleans

Congo Sanchez – Vol. 1 (2012, ESL Music)

Afrolicious – Pleasuretime EP (2012, ESL Music)

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