The First Rule Of Dub is that every dub LP you put on your turntable or insert into your CD player will make you want to listen to either Lee Scratch Perry’s masterpiece Super Ape, or Augustus Pablo and King Tubby’s King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown. They are the yardsticks by which instrumental dub is inevitably judged, and most LPs simply don’t have a hope of measuring up.
The sticker on the front of this Roots Tonic collaboration with one-time Public Image Limited producer Laswell proudly proclaims it to be “A revolutionary sound clash!!!… a futurist space/dub transmission.” While the third track, “Akademikus Du Umbeigu” uses a seriously groovy dancehall rhythm, there’s little else on display to mark this album out as being either particularly revolutionary or futuristic, apart from touches like the mobile phone samples in the album’s opener “Road to Axum.” It’s firmly in roots territory, and none the worse for it.
The playing throughout is immaculate. Bass player Josh Werner is rock solid, and is, quite properly, the focus throughout. His lines are given a pleasingly cavernous sound by Laswell’s production, which is at its best on “JD3.” Use of the guitar in the mix is sparing, and occasionally unconventional — there are some lovely lyrical passages of sustained chordal work here and there.
The only real drawback is that the sound isn’t quite organic enough. I can forgive the sine-wave keyboards, and the slight lapses in taste like the awful and distracting (possibly synthesized?) cowbells throughout “Employees Must Wash Your Hands” and the inexplicably out-of-place twiddly guitar bit near the beginning of the same song, but part of me just wants the whole record to feel a bit looser, a bit more relaxed, and a bit less urgent.
But despite that, it’s a fine piece of work; Roots Tonic Meets Bill Laswell is an enjoyably atmospheric, bass-heavy excursion into dub. It would be interesting to hear a further collaboration; there’s a good chance that if these guys worked together again, they might just produce something to rival Super Ape. Thoroughly recommended.