Lee Perry: Back on the Controls; Lee Perry and Iguana: Vibes

Following the musical trajectory of Lee Scratch Perry is in one sense easy, taking us on a journey from groundbreaking early work in the Black Ark studio, the virtual invention of dub as it came to be understood, and of course making the decisive contribution to the emergence of Bob Marley and the growth of reggae as an international (and commercial) phenomenon. On the other hand it is not at all easy to follow the unexpected twists and turns of a musical output which has sometimes been difficult to fathom. ‘Revelation’ for instance (2010) definitely had its moments (such as ‘Holy Angels’) but it remains, well, pretty odd. These two new releases in 2014 – ‘Back on the Controls’ and ‘Vibes’ – reflect this continuing difference between predictability and innovation in Lee Perry’s music. Both are well worth hearing but are quite dissimilar. ‘Back on the Controls’ seeks to recreate the sound of Lee Perry’s Black Ark studio, the place where some of his key contributions to reggae were formed. The Black Ark studio burnt down in the 1980s, but with the help of Kickstarter funding and an array of vintage analogue tape delay machines, mixers and phasing equipment, it is effectively given a new incarnation as the Rolling Lion studio in London. Along with UK producer Daniel Boyle, vocals and production contributions of Lee Perry find a new but strangely familiar place here. In a double-CD format, each track is immediately followed by its dub in the old style and it’s a convincing evocation of the classic Perry sound. The rhythm tracks are relatively similar throughout but from time to time Lee Perry’s pleasing idiosyncrasies find a way through to liven things up, particularly on the strong dubplate versions that close the second CD.

It is quaintly reassuring to find that ‘Vibes’ is still a word in common usage. With the collaboration of his ‘associate and protégé’ Iguana, this release finds Lee Perry at the less retro/more electronic end of things, drawing from different sub-genres of reggae and beyond to generate something new and, moreover, interesting. It’s effective as a short collection of new and in some ways intriguing tracks, featuring Lee Perry on loosely-defined vocals as well as production. Not too simple to sum up overall, the EP includes ‘Get Down’, with a soul/funk/rock sort of guitar setting the overall pace, an electro backing and Lee Perry declaiming over the top. ‘Rocks Rock Reggae’ has a firmer reggae rhythm, a ‘new-dub’ sound and a sweeping cinematic quality in the background. With ‘Midnight Train’ it’s back to a soul influence, while ‘Run Rebels Run’ has a full and complex mix, synth sounds bubbling away, a busy production and an anthemic feel overall – a strong track. ‘Flash’ concludes with a regular reggae rhythm along with some more contemporary dubstep beeps here and there. Taken as a whole this is a forward-looking set of tracks that don’t rely on the received sound of dub and reggae as-was – and worthy of attention for that reason if no other.

Lee Perry: Back on the Controls (double CD) released May 2014
Lee Perry and Iguana: Vibes (EP) released September 2014

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