Here come the Meow Meows with a new EP, ‘Friends on Benefits’. With their characteristic brass and guitar it’s a fast upbeat ska sound on these three short-ish songs, starting with the title track, followed through by ‘London Road’ and finally ‘Tits and Hatred’. The first of these is Two –Tone inspired punky ska, a strong tune and effective vocals. The second is in a similar rhythmic mould to begin with, slowing a little as it progresses, while the third track addresses the sure-fire success recipe of tabloid papers, more rock than reggae in its rhythm and getting more musically interesting as it goes along.

Like their previous album, this EP was produced by fellow Brighton luminary Prince Fatty and, as usual with his skills at the controls, the sound is crisp and clear. It’s not surprising that the band have performed live with Hollie Cook and with the Skints, those purveyors of fine crossover contemporary reggae. This is good dance-oriented modern ska, politically informed as well as fun, from a band that has built up a firm reputation during their ten years or so of live performance together.

According to the press release, this EP “emerged as part of a commission by Fuel Theatre for their ‘Music to Move to’ project – which saw ten musical acts team up with choreographers to create works which would inspire the general public to dance. The title track was the band’s emphatic response.”

The Meow Meows: Friends on Benefits: released by Jump Up! records on 7ʺ vinyl (limited edition) and digital download, July 2015.

a4212052171_5The excellent debut album from Dublin band After the Ibis was reviewed on these pages a year ago ( 1st June 2014). Now comes the belated release of the first single from the album. Entitled ‘Dig Up’, it’s a strong and slow-burning song, melancholy in feel, and musically powerful.

The song was written and produced by the band, with mixing and mastering from Jim Fox of Lion & Fox recording studio in Washington, DC. About the writing process, trumpet player Cillian Kenny says: “we write in a very organic way…all eight of us have very different musical backgrounds and we never know how a song is going to end up from when we have the first demo. We love to obsess over composition and there’s nothing like playing the tracks live for the first time to know what the crowd gets behind and what we still need to refine.”

Especially distinctive on this single is its Irish vocal sound – nothing faux-Jamaican or mid-Atlantic here – with Clare O Kennedy in fine voice, along with its sympathetic production. The instrumentation of the song is thoughtful and subtle – illustrating perhaps more effectively than any other band how the inspiration of the reggae tradition can inform new original work like this.

After the Ibis, ‘Dig Up’, released July 2015

a0869349583_10Capital Letters, producing new music after a gap of several decades, have met with acclaim for their resolute adherence to the authentic sound of Midlands roots reggae. Their comeback release ‘Wolverhampton’ has been positively reviewed on these pages and now we have the complete dub version of the album on separate release. Mixing engineer Dave Sandford was given licence to play dub with the original album, commenting that “on these dubs I just went with what I wanted to hear. Of course there are the norms for dub albums, but I wanted to take it further, trying to do things that haven’t been done”. The results speak for themselves as the album sounds neither like a classic-era dub collection nor a latter-day digital experiment. Along with the dub elements that might be expected – echo, reverb, bass, drums – there are unpredictable additions of partial vocals, sounds and effects that give it all an adventurous feel rather than just offering instrumental versions of the vocal tracks. This approach is demonstrated on a track like ‘Opportunity’ which powers along happily, and also on both versions included here of ‘Wolverhampton’, one of which is a ‘stripped down’ vocal version of the original track. ‘Tell Me What’s Wrong’ has a strange staccato style that works well, while ‘Jamaica’ stands out as a strong rhythm track in its own right with snatches of vocal thrown in to accentuate the overall impact. With 14 dubs here, plus 3 further alternate versions, the overall musical feel is curiously light, fresh – and happy. Listen alongside the original vocal album and the dubs here can be appreciated further. The 14 core tracks conclude with ‘A Place on Earth’, a fine conclusion indeed.

Capital Letters: Wolverhampton in Dub, released on Sugar Shack Records, CD and digital, 16th October 2015

artworks-000114909907-tvzryv-t500x500Here’s a great new 7” single release from London’s Kiko Bun (Federico Marin), a short and to-the-point reggae song with a retro feel. Recorded in New York, its location allowed the involvement of Ticklah – associate of the Easy Star All Stars – at the production desk and he adds a characteristically busy and deep bass-oriented sound. This is especially evident on the ‘B’ side – ‘Where I’m From (I Remember How to Dub)’ – where the dub sound is set free to follow the rhythm wherever it goes. It’s a song that is bound to be revisited and remixed as time goes on, as is already evident in the Tom Misch remix which transforms a neat reggae tune into something more akin to jazz.

View footage of Kiko Bun and Ticklah in the studio:

Kiko Bun: Where I’m From, released vinyl/DDL on Island label.

selecterCoventry’s own Selecter, originally formed in 1979, are back with a new 12-track album, produced by Neil Pyzer and mixed by Prince Fatty. Still fronted by lead singer Pauline Black and fellow original member Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson, it’s good to hear this new music from one of reggae’s great bands. The album is divisible into fast ska-based rhythms and more leisurely reggae songs, sequenced to provide a balance between the two. Proceedings open with ‘Box Fresh’, an upbeat ska song, setting the pattern for other tracks in a similar vein including ‘Open Goal’. ‘It Never Worked Out’ is a more leisurely and more interesting reggae affair, in common with the Eastern-flavoured ‘Breakdown’. Similarly ‘Karma’ is a retro-styled reggae song. ‘See Them a Come’ could have appeared at British reggae’s peak, as could ‘Walk the Walk’ with its Rudy-message-to-you horns.  Into this proficient set of songs there suddenly appears ‘Because the Night’, the Springsteen/Patti Smith classic that receives a highly convincing treatment here, surely destined to be a live crowd-pleaser. The album closes with ‘Still I Rise’ – thoughtful reggae music at its best, instrumentally and lyrically strong, giving way to a slow and lengthy final section: a song that could well have provided an effective alternative title for this collection as a whole.

The Selecter ‘Subculture’: released by DMF Records (CD, vinyl, DDL) 15th June 2015