San-Francisco-based cult DJ Bassnectar’s latest album Underground Communication has a lot to recommend it. But I have a major reservation, which I will get to.
The album opens with a tranquil bamboo-wind-chime sound in the intro leading us into a pacey, energetic journey. In places this offers very danceable break-beats, and in others an atmospheric ambient chillout, such as is found in the languid, Orbit-esque “Fsosf.” There are some edgy found-sound samples juxtaposed with sweet melodic passages, which make for a complex and satisfying mix.
Some of my quibbles are purely a matter of personal taste. The almost total lack of Jamaican accent in the vocal samples, for instance, jarred with me. But that is probably a personal prejudice based on my UK-based sensibilities. Underground Communication is an accomplished, eclectic dub-fusion overall. It includes elements of dance, trance, experimental electronic, drum and bass, trip-hop, hip-hop, ambient, reggae, wobble, bhangra and even a truly inspired rag-time piano loop — on the track “Carried Away.”
Clearly this is the work of an eclectic and accomplished musician, one who has used his imagination and has a sense of humour. Most of the album is intelligently arranged, if a little overambitious at times. In my favourite track of the album, “Carried Away,” — which I found very interesting for its use of ragtime piano and bhangra and which exudes joie-de-vivre, — there were enough motifs to make at least three, simpler and possibly more effective tracks. The effect as it stood was somewhat fussy, though it stopped short of being a mess. The later phases of “Ridiculous Wobble,” and the track “Amorphous Form” show what can be achieved by this artist when he allows himself to follow a groove.
Which brings me to basics — or, more precisely, to the bass. The bass is an essential element for the enjoyment of dub. It’s not enough to hear it, you’ve got to feel it in your feet, in your chest cavity, in your neck. The sub-bass must almost threaten to destabilize your heartbeat or it just doesn’t work. That’s my opinion.
I read the press releases for Bassnectar and was happy. I was in for some heavy dub fusion, with “throbbing bass.” In deference to my neighbourhood, which is somewhat less — shall we say — raw than the neighbourhoods of my teens and twenties, I prepared by turning down my sub-woofer, taking it to the kitchen (which has a concrete floor), closing the windows, and playing the CD on a Saturday afternoon. This seemed like a reasonable time of the week to blast next-door’s ears and chests for a while.
Five minutes later, I was upstairs in the bedroom, speakers on the wooden floor, volume up, sub-woofer at maximum — and frustrated as all hell. It was better in the bedroom with the wooden floor, but not heavy enough. Ten minutes after that, I was in the car with the children demanding I turn the music up, then immediately asking me to turn it down again. The top-end became deafening but the bass was only a little better. It tickled my knees, but it never reached my chest. You can’t feel the sub-bass strongly enough on even a decent domestic sound system. I checked it against other CDs for reference, including Tricky’s Maxinquaye. I had hoped that it could perhaps compete, but Tricky beat it hands down.
I believe there is a weakness in the mastering of this album. If there isn’t, I can only surmise a couple of things. In America, either everyone in the market has a massive, professional, stage-standard sound-system; or Bassnectar isn’t producing truly heavy underground dub in the studio. Perhaps someone can enlighten me after their forthcoming US Summer events and let me know if the live shows are as body-shakingly throbbing and heavy as I’ve heard they are.
At any rate, I’m sure there won’t be anything amateurish about the quality of the music you hear. You will certainly dance, have fun, and want to explore the eclectic roots of the music, which is no bad thing.Powered by Sidelines