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Dubbest | Avoid the Pier

album review by John Powell

Dubbest | Avoid the Pier

Keeping up with the northeast reggae scene grows ever more uncompromising for any newer band. In an age where Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad and John Brown’s Body are well-established, and bands like Spiritual Rez tour tirelessly, leave it to Dubbest to hold it down roots-style.

The Boston-based group is heavily dub-oriented, although Avoid the Pier has songs with full lyrics, etc. The dub comes in the production, where drum n’ bass are always turned up a little higher than everything else, and where the groove outplays the experimentation.

For their second album, Dubbest slowed down and recorded over time. This means their songs didn’t have to fit a mold, and the end product sounds incredible. The vocals aren’t prominent, but are audible and understandable. The layered guitars melt seamlessly into the rhythms. Also, each song is relatively slow in tempo- that methodical dub anyone in meditation can synch with.

“The Take Off” is a quicker song; a two-minute dub that sounds as divinely perfect as anything Slightly Stoopid would pull off easily enough. Ryan Thaxter’s vocals are chopped and teased. Is it a great way to start off a record? Well, for most bands, no, simply because it’s over so quickly and never builds to anything- but for Dubbest it fits their sound without a hitch.

“Liars Tree I” is followed by “Liars Tree II”, and both are meditative slow burners with atmospheric grooves ala any jam band, but the songs never leave Earth, grounded in a funky but repetitive instrumentation. “The liars tree may stand tall,” Ryan sings, “but he’s standing just to fall.” Later he sings, “No one wants to be caught red hatchet in red hand.”

The second song is even slower, driven by melodica. Kyle Hancock and Sean Craffey hold down the rhythm section sweetly. This album would make Sly and Robbie proud. Here, the lyrics simplify and grow from political metaphor to dreamscape, but that’s okay. The lyrics fit the music.

The ultimate track, however, is “Tall and Grown”, with its upbeat and funky groove, with a drumbeat so tight it sounds nearly electronic, (it’s not). The vocal melody is awesome. Yes, awesome is about the best way to explain it. Half pissed off, half supportive of change, Ryan sings, “Happy in denial/ and then I get a funny feeling/ reminds me I’m alive.” It’s grittier than anything else on Avoid the Pier, with single written all over it.

Interspersed with these full songs are a few short dubs, “Dub 42” at under a minute. The album closes out with a trio of delicacies. “Dune” is lovingly dubbed out. It spins the world at half time. Tweaked with until it sounds like a record melting in the sun, it features banjo in the background.

The final song is “Avoid the Pier at Night/ Hot Thursday”, a nine-minute double feature that starts off like a new-age rain stick orchestra. Then the groove sets in and you realize there’s nothing to worry about- except the last two minutes that fall back into that wind and whirl panorama.

It’s not the best way to end this album, and although some songs are super short, others are a tad too long. Had Dubbest removed much of their weirdness, the album would be tight, as opposed to loose. Especially the last track, which could have ended in the same dub way that the album began.

Dubbest stays true to their name. No ska here, and even the more reggae songs have that dub verbosity to them. Avoid the Pier also has very contemporary songwriting to it and a contemporary reggae’s approach to album-making, really feeling like a beginning, middle, and end, with similar themes throughout.

Overall, dub fans will love a modern band like Dubbest, and Avoid the Pier is essential listening for the fan of the northeast reggae scene.

Bottom line: Reggae band’s second release is trippy, with good songwriting and plenty of drum n’ bass.


 

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