This original and in some ways surprising album from Oxford’s very own is a curious collection. With a live sound throughout, particularly in the mix of the bass and drums, there is a pervasive mood of urgency – put simply, being slightly frantic – as though time was running out fast and all these styles, songs and genres had to be squeezed into one (albeit very long) album before time ran out altogether.
The opening track – ‘Prophecy’ – is roots reggae in the old style to begin, before speeding-up and throwing in some guitar twiddlings that provide a direct bridge to the rock tradition from which the album also draws its numerous inspirations. ‘Ride Your Life Like a Bicycle’ (the initial single release) starts with some classic reggae chords, then proceeds toward some quirky Englishness, as though Syd Barrett had met the Specials one enchanted evening, fading out with a down-your-way harmony section, with its talk-over reminiscent of the light programme from the golden age of steam radio; what was it anyway with bicycles in the late 60s, the Prisoner and My White Bicycle aside?
‘Papa is a Rudie’ provides a definitive drum-n-bass way-in to a mix-up with a classic ska brass riff, a great workout. ‘Bang Up’ sits on a fine bass line rhythm – hip-hop style to begin, its bass providing a link to an underlying reggae foundation, before its Ghost Town sort of chords lead unexpectedly into a guitar solo that could have appeared on any rock release from the past forty years, before reverting to its hip-hop mood. ‘Slowly’ is, consistent with expectations, somewhat slower, almost pastoral in its sweet melody and feel, its vocals opening-out into an extended instrumental run-out, a warm and thoughtful song. ‘Come Forward’ is similarly melodic roots in the finest reggae tradition.
‘Power up’ gives us some more hip hop raps, straight outta Oxford, and in the same place ‘A Ton on U Boombox’ offers a one-chord hip-hop influenced outing. ‘A Racist (stays the same)’ provides a take on how words change, names change, but the racist stays the same. Conceivably on the same theme, ‘Snake’ is a great track musically, a bright arrangement that keeps-on-moving, evolving finally into a ragga sort of outing with a string-sounding synth backing.
‘U Cannot Rule Remix’ is an extended dub-based workout, with a strong and intriguing mix, some assertive deejaying laying down the law as the rhythm continues its powerful course. The album closes appropriately enough on ‘Bye Bye’, a track that seems at first to be a surprisingly light sort of reggae tune to finish things off, but then develops into an intriguing and slightly unnerving sort of fade out that for some reason is reminiscent both of Sgt Pepper and the Wizard of Oz. There should be a helpline with this. But in a nice way.
Overall the album sounds as though it was frustrated in a studio environment, struggling to set itself free in the live setting where it needs to be heard. This is vital and new, from a band who don’t mind using the whole received tradition of English rock, US hip hop, Jamaican roots and anything else to generate their unique take on reggae.
Dubwiser ‘A Crack in Paradise’: Crash Records, CD/download, September 2011