Subatomic Sound 2017
Are you ready to step with I-man? Reggae milestone gets a fresh flesh for its dub bones and opens the doors for another generation.
“I and I shall never work in vain”: here’s a line from the infectious “Zion’s Blood” that may be Lee Perry’s motto. Constantly synchronizing himself with nature – for the power of which this album’s titular simian is a symbol – the Jamaican has always seen music with a “Scratch” mark as a work in progress. Something larger than a simple dub LP, 1976’s “Super Ape” was based on the producer’s previous recordings, THE UPSETTERS and Perry transmogrifying their own revolutionary brew and carrying its spirit into the following year’s “Return Of The Super Ape” before The Black Ark closed for good. The platter’s intrepid specter continued to loom, though, yet it took New York’s SUBATOMIC SOUND SYSTEM years of touring with the legendary artist to conspire with Lee and give the classic a new lease of life.
Cut anew and expanded, it sounds modern, if faithful to the original version in terms of deconstructing decades-old pieces and assembling them in a different but recognizable way – not for nothing “Black Vest” and “Croaking Lizard” appear here in cinematically relaxed, instrumental mixes, as extra tracks, while in the album’s context, given a voice, these punchy songs arrive under old, Max Romeo-related billing as, respectively, “War Ina Babylon” and “Chase The Devil” – and there’s also a fresh concept attached to it all. “I’m walking in water right now!” mutters Perry when he opens “Returns” with the short toast of “New Ark Subatomic Energy” and closes the album with the concert-soaked “So It Conquer” to deepen his traditional recipes on the likes of “Patience Dub” which received a wobbly vocal now, and to bring the eternally relevant themes back to the fore. From social affair to affairs of one’s heart,”Underground Roots” is the record’s most romantic moment – and poignant, too, being Ari Up’s last-ever session – albeit its slowed-down tempo feels just as incendiary.
Mixing live elements and studio witchery, Scratch and SSS’s Emch created a heady, inebriating take on reggae perennials such as the bass-heavy title piece, Larry McDonald’s time-tested percussion spicing up the Africa-rooted riddims, whereas there’s nothing more soulful on offer than “Go Deya (Three In One)” and its barrio brass. Still, the oft-quoted flute and shiny horns envelop “Dread Lion” in jazzy mystic as hypnotic chant hailing Jah Rastafari, King of the Forest, evaporates into an electronically enhanced, Ethiopia-scented haze and then coiling into “Curly Dub (Sing Along Jah Jah Children)” to allow Screechy Dan celebrate the holy smoke and his octogenarian host to exclaim: “I am free!” After that, the “Follow I” imperative of “Dub Along” is but an invitation for a trip – a triumphant romp of the Ape. Stronger than ever, it’s good to have this force back.