Vinyl And Video Games: An Unlikely Joining Of Forces

video games vinyl

We take a look at the recent phenomenon of video game soundtracks on vinyl and why this fun and interesting mix is great for both industries.

Who would have thought that vinyl and video games would form an unlikely partnership? One is a technology that was invented as far back as 1877, the other only came into being in the 1970s – almost 100 years apart.

If you step back and think about it, they actually do have a lot in common. They can both involve collecting discs, most enthusiasts will have more than one system to play their games or listen to music on, and they’re both used recreationally to pass the time and relax with. On top of this, they’re both very addictive hobbies. If you go to a record or video game enthusiasts house, you’re likely to see a shelf stacked full of albums or games in a meticulously planned order, and the console or record player front and centre in the living room.

 

The History

It we take a look at the history, we can see that video games and vinyl enjoyed a coming together as far back as the 1980s. Music from popular video games of the time such as Pac-Man and the Dragon Quest series were added to record, and turned out to be quite popular. With the decline in record sales during the 90s, this phenomenon decreased, but with the resurgence of vinyl in the 2010s, there has been a huge increase in video game vinyl being distributed. These often include limited runs or promotional material, making the records extremely collectable and sought after in certain circles. In today’s world you can get anything from retro vinyl releases of games such as 90s platforming beat ’em up, Battletoads Battlemaniacs, right up to music from the present day with beautifully crafted records from games such the ever popular Call of Duty first person shooter series.

 

The Evolution

It’s probably not just to do with the vinyl resurgence that video game soundtracks have become more popular – the music is far more complex and compelling for video games in today’s world. No longer are there retro beeps and 8 bit sounds (unless its a newly made retro game – another recent craze), as with the increased technology for graphics came the capability to improve the sound. Some of the bigger video games companies spend tens of thousands on soundtracks, either creating their own in-depth orchestral movements and hiring famous composers, or splashing the cash to secure the latest hits in the charts. This has allowed the soundtracks to breathe more life into games, and something that players may want to listen to outside of gaming. A certain song might remind them of part of a game that has an emotional connection or was a something they struggled to get past, or reminds them of a time they were playing with a certain person; it could be anything.

 

A Growing Business

The popularity of this phenomenon may be bigger than you think. There are multiple websites that cater for this community, and it’s not just geared towards selling. Blipblop is a website that posts news, new releases and resources for sourcing records. Twitter account Games on Wax has photos and pre-order news for upcoming releases, and there are a continually growing number of specialist record company labels out there that cater specifically for video game vinyl. One of these is online shop Iam8bit. They cater for a large array of video game memorabilia, but Vinyl is one of their big sellers. A recent high-profile release was for a game called Persona 5 – a Japanese role-player set in modern-day Tokyo. The soundtrack is influenced by Acid Jazz amongst other genres and Iam8bit decided to release a whopping 6LP special edition for $175. As you can see, it’s big business. The large price tags for certain releases are condoned by the larger number of discs, tailored packaging and design, sleeve notes and extra booklets, as well as limited running numbers, and anything else that comes with it. Another recent special edition release was for the side-scrolling retro shoot ‘em up Cuphead. The graphics were heavily influenced by classic cartoons from the 1920s and 30s, and so the soundtrack had a mixture of jazz (what is it with jazz?) and ragtime numbers to accompany. The box set comes housed in a mock-up of a vintage 78 rpm record case, gold lettering, purposefully tea-stained record sleeves for that authentic feel and houses 4 lps. I mean, this really looks something special. It’s limited, it’s expensive, and it’s something that collectors want and are willing to pay for.

Photo credited to iam8bit

Photo credited to iam8bit

When you look into it, you realise video games and vinyl is not just a small community, but an ever-growing subculture. It encompasses the old and the new in a way that people would never have imagined, and is almost like a scene within a scene. Seeing two technologies at opposite ends of the spectrum collaborate in this way is something special, and has really brought a genre of music into the limelight that otherwise would have only been listened to by gamers in their homes in front of their consoles.

For people with disposable income and an interest in music and gaming, you better clear some room on your shelves because this is your new favourite hobby. But I warn you, it’s as addictive as hell.

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News: Luca D’Alberto To Release New Record ‘Exile’ in October

lucadalberto

Vinyl Chapters classical favourite Luca D’Alberto is set to release new record Exile on October 5th 2018, and we can’t wait. It’s his invention and modern take on the classical sound that sets Luca apart from many, and we’re hoping Exile follows the same route.

Following on from the success of his debut album Endless released in 2017, the multi-instrumentalist and composer’s second record will be on imprint 7K! by Berlin based label !K7.

The new record has been described as built around powerful and memorable melodies, incisive crescendos, hidden emerging elements and rhythms that seem to arrive from knowhere to create intriguing layers. The cinematic feel is definitely apparent in his previous work, and seems to be a strong feature on Exile, if track Consequences is anything to go by. Check out the video below:

When discussing the new record, Luca states:

“Having immersed myself in other artistic fields, my sources of inspiration are not music and listening, but rather images and feelings. In ‘Exile’ music has two strands. On the one hand there’s the sweetness, where I wanted to express the idea of a caress not given. On the other there is a more aggressive, powerful side, which translates into the presence of hidden blades connected to an urgent composition that I can’t escape”

 

This is an album Vinyl Chapters has been looking forward to for a while, so expect a full review upon its release. Watch this space!

 

 

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Album Review: The Bamboos – Night Time People

the bamboos

Australian funk/soul outfit The Bamboos return with their 8th studio album Night Time People, managing to bring out everything that’s great about the band while melding the past against the present.

Having been around for 18 years now, The Bamboos can be seen as stalwarts of the funk/soul sound. They’ve always revelled in the contemporary and forward-thinking attitude toward funk and soul, which isn’t always easy for a band to do; many get stuck in that rut of the ‘classic’ sound, which, is all well and good, but doesn’t allow progress. The band were thrown into the world limelight recently with a song by guitarist and songwriter Lance Ferguson from 2009 being remixed and released in 2016 under the name This Girl by Kung Vs. Cookin’ too critical acclaim and huge success. Night Time People builds on this success with once again, an ageless but contemporary sound that hits the right nerve for today’s world.

Kylie Auldist takes on lead vocals throughout this record, and opener Lit Up is testament to her strengths at front and centre. She sings of hiding her pain, showing off the bands two sides throughout the track – the fun funk versus the deep soul that the track is built around. With breaks and beats accompanying on top of pop elements and hip-hop variations, it’s one hell of an opener.

night time people

Golden Ticket hails back to that classic funk/soul sound, using elements of British Northern soul to round off the music, and produce a track that although relies heavily on the retro, is brought directly into the present with great production balancing it out perfectly. Album-titled track Night Time People starts off sounding like something lifted directly from a Prince songbook, but builds on this with trumpet sections and pitchy vibes, whereas You Should’ve Been Mine is exactly what the title sounds like – a song of sorrow and lost love, but brightened up with uplifting arrangements where hope is personified. Once again the titular songwriting is shown off through the contrast of the music, and different ideas that are played with throughout.

The vinyl addition gives you more detail on the albums filmstrip style cover portraying shadowy figures of the band playing, playing on the theme of the classic versus the present. The sound is warm with special attention seemingly paid to bring out the vocals to a point where they really pop. When compared to downloads or even CD, the Vinyl edition definitely gives you that added quality that some vinyl releases these days unfortunately miss out on due to rushed production.

With an array of differing emotions and song techniques throughout, Night Time People is impressive for a musical genre so steeped in tradition. The Bamboos seem to evolve with ease where others fail, and the record is a testament to this attitude. It shows a band with no sign of slowing down or conforming to one sound, which is great to see and hear.

Score: 4/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Review: Morcheeba – Blaze Away

morcheeba

Morcheeba return with their first record in 5 years, and with it comes a mammoth world tour to show off their new album Blaze Away.

Playing 40 shows across 22 countries is no mean feat. I mean, The Rolling Stones might make it look easy doing this consistently at their old age, but quite frankly, they’re  superhuman and I don’t know how some of them are still alive. For most bands though, it can be a strenuous task being on the road. Having been going for 20 plus years, Morcheeba have settled into their stride, comfortable with touring and recording, and this all comes through in new record Blaze Away.

Blaze Away is a culmination of everything Morcheeba have learned over the years, and hails back to their 90s roots, but with added twists and turns; it’s a positive fresh start with a triumphant return to their genre-mashing instinctiveness. This is straight away seen in the album-titled track featuring Roots Manuva; it’s 60s soul sound and pop connotations give it a sublime lightness which accompany well with heavy background guitar against the beat. Blaze Away’s double-edged sound is accompanied by double-edged meanings, becoming like classic Morcheeba with an edginess not seen before.

blaze away

Love Dub is a dub track (who would’ve thought?) that has the everlasting sound of dub reggae. By that, I mean you could listen to a dub track from the 90s or today, and it would be near on impossible to tell what decade it’s from. The track manages to too and fro along to classic drum beats that pull it along at a steady pace, allowing the listener to fall into the deep trance that only reggae dub can do.

Sweet LA is a different beast altogether, and an album highlight. Kicking off with sultry hammond organ and vocals, it’s beautiful layered use of voice works fantastically against the simplicity of the track which really brings it out of its shell.

Morcheeba have also tried something completely different with this album, with track Paris sur Mer featuring French lyrics. Having a big fanbase in France, lead singer Skye Edwards describes it as “a stream-of-consciousness fantasy about Paris being a magical place on the beach and in the mountains”. This atmosphere really comes out in the track, which sits over hip-hop beats with a 60s psychedelica vibe, showing off Morcheeba’s well-honed skill of mixing genres seamlessly.

The Vinyl format is perfect for bands like Morcheeba, where the chilled vibe and genre-mashing is really brought out in the grooves, allowing for deep set definitions and more detail than you may find on other formats. The cover art seems like a trippy Banksy with mountains, flowers and a pair of humans silhouetted in black against the rest of the vibrant colours. This completes a visually striking picture that is great in detail on the vinyl format, and really completes the genre-hopping record.

Blaze Away is a triumph of a band comfortable in their own sound and having fun with it. It’s a return to past glories, but also a glimpse into the future of the band who are determined to carry on doing what they love, and sharing it with everyone by their heavy tour schedule. If the shows are as good as the record, then you’re in for a treat.

Score: 4/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Review: James Heather – Stories From Far Away On Piano (Vinyl Edition)

james heather

We take a look at James Heather’s debut record Stories From Far Away On Piano as it gets its first vinyl release.

Contemporary pianist James Heather is jumping on the vinyl bandwagon, and who could blame him? It will get this relatively new musician a broader audience to listen to his music and join the legion of growing fans. Being handpicked by Laura Marling to support her at her Brit Awards/War Child gig was another big help to get his name out there, but now he appears to be standing on his own, thanks to the wonderful songs and format of his debut record Stories From Far Away On Piano.

Having received a second-hand piano from a family friend when he was 9, James has over the years carved out his own sound. With obvious influences from some of his self-confessed favourite composers, such as fellow contemporary artist Max Richter, Heather’s sound can be seen as quiet and contemplative piano pieces, but also an emotional simmering underneath that feels like it can burst forth at any moment. Empire Sounds lulls you in with James’ sweet and sad tones and shows of the concept of the record perfectly. Heather sites many political and media disaster influences in his music, such as the hijacking of a facebook account of an executed female activist in Syria, or the undiscovered remains of a disappeared Malaysia Airlines jet in the Indian ocean. Once you know this, tracks like Empire Sounds make more sense to you as you listen to the sombre tones and relate them back to upsetting news stories.

stories from far away on piano

Last Minute Change of Heart’s gentle movement of pace and structure is testament to the artist’s creative skill in keeping the track interesting, yet emotional, whereas Teardrop Tattoo is an album highlight and one of the most catchy tracks on the record. It ebbs and flows as if on a tide pulling you evermore forward. As the track moves on the complexity gets bolder and shows off James’ knack of creating beauty where others would fail. His talent is obvious in the way he effortlessly glides through the tracks portraying a rawness but solidarity, that fits with in well with the theme of world news

The only track that breaks away from this is Pathos. It still sticks to the themes of viewpoint, opinion and perspective, as Heather mentions himself, but feels like a track designed to appeal directly to the listener rather than what’s going on the world over. With it’s slightly darker tone, maybe Heather wanted to confront the listener which, in itself, provokes an empathetic response.

The black and white album art by Suki features layers of indian ink bled into newspaper print, repeatedly scanned and treated to interpret recirculation of information. It creates a strong and stark image, and even encapsulates 9 dots which relate to the latitude and longitude where each news story came from that Heather writes about within the music. A clever idea that not only gives the music a concept, but the album cover as well. The vinyl copy of the record is transcendent, and due to its solo piano nature, you really get to hear the full sound of the instrument as the needle plays its way through the grooves. Full and warm, this directly correlates to the overall sombre tones that lead to a beautiful listen on the vinyl format.

Stories From Far Away on Piano can best be described as piano thinking music. James has a knack for taking an idea or story and retelling the story in his own way through his instrument. Perspective, mortality and empathy are three of the strong messages throughout the record, and he manages to portray them with ease and fluidity throughout. James Heather is a man already near the top of his game, and it bodes well for the future of the artist.

Score: 4/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Review: Tove Styrke – Sway

Tove-Styrke

Swedish pop starlett Tove Styrke returns with new album Sway, but is she ready to wow the world?

Tove’s pop sound has changed and mutated over the years, and it finally feels like she’s honed in on something that suits her. From her roots competing on tv show Swedish Idol, to recently supporting Lorde and now about to tour Europe with Katy Perry, it’s no wonder people are starting to take notice and sit up with eager anticipation. Tove is a hard worker and the rewards are definitely paying off, and she’s finally able to show off all that graft and commitment shown with new record Sway.

The first thing you notice is how tailored the record is. It feels like every beat, every instrument, every vocal has been listened to with extra care to make sure it fits in perfectly with everything that’s built up around it. It’s not just the mixing, its the overall sound of the record that feels especially polished. The album-titled opener Sway kicks in with a catchy synth-pop riff as Tove provides floaty vocals to set the pace. She pours her heart out with lyrics of questioning and self-doubt, tying it all together with cleverly situated backing music and lively drums.

sway

Say My Name starts off with simple synths accompanied by Tove’s voice alone; it lets her show off her distinct ‘singy/talky’ style that she got down to a tee, and sparkles the listener with witty one liners to push the track along: ‘wear it out like a sweater that you love’. In contrast, Mistakes good use of tightly layered vocals manages to bring the track to life as the melody and wordplay chug along at a steady beat. Tove makes great use of drops and breaks once again before rising the track up and belting out the chorus like a phoenix from the flames.

On A Level shows yet another side to Tove’s skills. Layered vocals form an Imogen Heap-esque sound (if you haven’t heard it check out Hide and Seek) that really suit the artist’s range, while the overly-polished track once again delivers the ambience thats majestic, it has that ‘something’ that every pop song searches for to reach the top amidst the saturated pop market. Not bad for a song in the deep-cuts of the record.

Sway is a success and Tove’s best work to date. Mixing with the big names has definitely paid off and the attention to detail that shines through on the record is impressive. Tove is an artist in her prime, and touring with Katy Perry is bound to bring her a bunch of new fans that the artist fully deserves.

Score: 5/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Review: The Undertones – Singles 1978 – 1983

undertonecrop

The Undertones celebrate 40 years since the release of classic single ‘Teenage Kicks with a 13 single vinyl box set release for record store day.

With record store day impending, vinyl fans will soon be queing outside their local record stores, waiting for a chance to spend their hard-earned cash on many a reissue, rarity, new artist or even… a Dr Who spoken-word record. Record Store Day is more popular now than it’s ever been, and with this growing interest, the releases are getting bigger and better. And what better band than the punk/pop legends The Undertones to lead the way this year?

The Undertones, like many bands, can thank English DJ, John Peel for giving them the exposure they needed through his wonderful radio show. This allowed the band to really take off and share with the world their full on pop-punk loveliness. Where would we be without the three-chord wonder of Teenage Kicks, the thrashing warm beats of Here Comes the Summer, or the thumping raucousness of Jimmy Jimmy? And although this box set features all these beautiful tracks, for people not so familiar with their other stuff, it’s a chance to hear the progression of a band to their more soul and Motown vibe of 4th album The Sin of Pride.

undertonecovercrop

Teenage Kicks is obviously first and foremost with no introduction needed – the raw emotion and angst-ridden energy makes it one of the finest punk songs ever, and John Peel’s favourite song to boot. My Perfect Cousin is an often forgotten slice of excellence; written during the summer of 1979 and inspired by an actual cousin of one of the band members, it’s lightness and ability to get your foot tapping as you listen to a day in the life of a late 70s teenager means it’s up there with the best. As the singles head through the years, the songs become more crafted and well-toned. Some may say the raw power was lost, but like any band, it’s just a natural progression in musicianship. Chain Love from The Sin of Pride is testament to this, with its warbling vocals, harmonica opening and focus on melody rather than raucous guitars. It’s more fine-tuned and layered than previous tracks, and an underestimated classic.

The box set itself is well worth a queuing session at your local record store for RSD 2018. All 13 7” singles  are housed in a rigid card slipcase, with each vinyl in its own paper sleeve and featuring the original artwork. On top of this they’ve thrown in an additional poster with photos, notes and track comments by bassist Michael Bradley. The music itself has been cut from original analogue tape transfers, making the sound warm, crisp and really bringing out the low-end. Perfect for summers day listening and joining in with the youth revolt sound.

Record Store Day for me is about reminding everyone what vinyl is about and why we love it. This box set performs that duty admirably; it’s a beautiful box set, features beautiful music, and reminds everyone about a beautiful band.

By Jamie Parmenter

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Album Review: Ty – A Work Of Heart

ty

We take a look at the new gatefold vinyl release from hip hop artist Ty, as he returns with his 5th longplayer, A Work Of Heart.

Ty hasn’t released an album since 2010’s Special Kind of Fool, but by the way A Work of Heart has been put together, it shows he hasn’t lost his touch. Being produced and predominantly written by Ty, it shows a crisp and bouncy audiophile production that is testament to change and progression.

The record is littered with Ty’s usual wit and wordplay, and as the title suggests, he really did put himself into this record as an open book. Eyes Open invites listeners in as a hypnotic double-time roller with Ty’s distinctive vocals spread over snaps and a gentle piano riff that drives the track on. One minute he’s rhyming ‘Phoenix’ with ‘double helix’, the next he’s name-dropping ‘the cow that jumped over the moon’; you can’t really find these turns of quintessential Britishness anywhere else, and it gives a real placement of roots and personality into the song, and the album, as a whole.

Somehow Somewhere Someway’s chilled out vibes backed with unique chorus sections wouldn’t feel out of place on Outkast’s classic record Speakerboxx, with plentiful hip hop energy that builds up to a message around keeping faith in yourself; ‘I’ve got my own way of thinking, that’s my ultimate goal’. Other past influences continue with 90s hip hop definitely a cornerstone of the record, but Ty still managing to keep it sounding up-to-date and fresh. As The Smoke Clears features a gentle backing track that Warren G would have been happy to use, spread over a thick layer of story-laden words that gets darker as the track progresses.

ty a work of heart

The record can not only be playful, bus shows a more intense side, as Ty shows on the melancholy Marathon. It gives a glimpse inside anxiety and depression which are as culturally significant today as they have ever been, with a message of pushing on, not just from a personal perspective, but universally. More 90s influence can be seen here, with similarities to Faithless, but with more of the dark tones and in-depth story-telling making it unique to Ty, as he sings out ‘sometimes when I wake up, I don’t wish to carry on’.

The vinyl release comes on a beautiful gatefold that hits home hard. The Album cover is dark and artistic, featuring Ty falling back in a wooden chair amongst hearts being thrown out of his chest on spikes. It definitely conveys how the music was written and what to expect from this deeply personal record. The sound on vinyl itself definitely raises the bar, with low-end pleasantly subtle and vocals managing to cut through where necessary to perfection. Keep a listen out for track Marathon, which works really well on the format and comes alive as the clarinet plays wistfully against Ty’s powerful but tender words.

A work of Heart is a mix of the unique, the clever, the vulnerable and the dark. It flits from idea to idea with a charm that doesn’t pigeon-hole it to one style, and makes it a better album for it. Ty’s break has given him a lot to think about, and it’s apparent on this record. A strong and welcome comeback.

Score: 4/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Review: Black Flower – Intermediate State

black flower

We take a look at the new 10” record from Black Flower; a dreamy, psychedelic delight created between albums.

Having released their critically acclaimed second album Artifacts in 2017, Belgium’s Black Flower didn’t just sit back and rest on their Laurels. Like all good musicians addicted to their trade, they wanted to release more music as soon as possible.

Inspired by artists such as ‘father of Ehtiojazz’, Mulatu Astatke, sax giant Getatchew Mekurya and bossman Fela Kuti, Black Flower manage to carve out grooves where others wouldn’t find them, and Intermediate State is testament to this skill. The band draw inspiration from Salvador Dali’s creative dreaming ritual; he used to enter a deep sleep while holding scissors (nice and safe…), and when the scissors were dropped, this would wake him up. Dali would then paint using the inspiration from his dreams. This influence has allowed the band to create 4 tracks of dreamy substance that have all their usual signature sounds , and accompanied by a riveting playfulness that drives the record along.

Opener Almaz starts off slow and sultry, as simple bass patters over drawn-out hammond organ and jazz drums, before the bass takes centre stage with the sax stepping in to clean things up. The band are gently egging each other on here to make an interesting piece of music full of dream-like wonder, skill and dexterity.

black-flower-intermediate-state

Maqam Tizita Saba sees the drums of Simon Segers kept simple, but with lightning bouts of insanity that draw you out of the hypnotic music and back into the real world at various places. You’re then gently coerced back into the lumbering wonderland as the music caresses you deep into your own mind. The upper structure allows for a flow of innocence, and the peaceful elements work perfectly throughout.

Side B sees The Good Side Of Bad’s addictively funky bass drive the song forward from the start, amidst a host of sounds and instruments filling out the track to bring it to life. The stops and breaks add depth and character, allowing the track to completely change its output, gradually slowing down into 60s psychedelica, feeling like being lost in a world where nothing makes sense.

The record finishes with the dark sounding Fly High Oh My, which almost uses elements and melodies of drone metal as a template to provide a strong, energy propelling high to climax the musician’s journey into dreamland, and waking up just as Dali’s scissors hit the ground.

Interesting, crazy, and hypnotizing, Intermediate State is a powerful release that is best listened to with your eyes closed and your mind open. It draws on each member’s ability to get lost in their own world, and bring it all back together in 4 really fascinating pieces of music. Well worth a listen.

Score 4/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Review: Dub Syndicate – The Pounding System

DubSyndicate

We take a look at the band’s early dub showcase record The Pounding System to see if it’s stood the test of time on its recent Vinyl re-release.

Long perceived to be a cornerstone of maverick British producer Adrian Sherwood’s pioneering output with his Dub Syndicate crew, The Pounding System (Ambience In Dub) has received a welcome re-release on heavyweight, high quality vinyl as part of a lively, four-LP re-issue programme from his groundbreaking On-U Sound imprint.

Originally recorded in 1982, this set charts the evolution of the eclectic, London-based collective away from the label’s preceding outfit Creation Rebel and establishes leader Sherwood’s idiosyncratic, progressive and inventive take on dub reggae.

The Pounding System was recorded in a spontaneous flurry, due to the label’s financial difficulties, yet this urgency supplies much of its embryonic, ramshackle charm. Many of On-U Sound’s trademarks permeate this stripped-down recording – loping rhythms, cavernous bass, a sprinkling of whooshing electronic effects, the judicious use of delicious reverb – along with sly and irreverent nods to the work of Scientist in both style and track titles.

pounding-system

The late Lincoln ‘Style’ Scott had yet to join the crew and later recordings would showcase a more expansive, layered and collaborative approach, but the album emerges in its own right as a compelling, ambitious and intoxicating forum for the outre, experimental tendencies of Sherwood’s production style: the fizzing, psychedelic abstractions on Crucial Tony Tries To Rescue the Space Invaders work a treat and can even be viewed as a precursor to Andrew Weatherall’s work with Primal Scream a decade later, for instance.

Whilst the initial draw here is the adventurous, textural hum of Sherwood’s mixing-desk funhouse pyrotechnics, a simmering elegance is derived from constituent, organic features of the mix: the aforementioned Crucial Tony’s warmly melodic bass vamping, Mr Flesh’s congenial sax interjections or African Head Charge’s clanking percussion contribute as much as the sonic sorcerer’s disembodied mangling and joyous reconfiguring.

Dub Syndicate and On-U Sound would go on to explore a plethora of vivid sound clashes, but the dubs assembled here still sound fresh as a daisy.

By Michael Sumsion

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