The Alchemystics | Spread Hope
Album review by John Powell
MC Force recently told me, “We don’t really fit a category. We’re not easy to place.” Drummer/co-producer Demse Zullo agrees. “We don’t really fit in with jam bands. First of all, they don’t have any hooks, and we have plenty.”
Plenty is an understatement. After three years of recording at Demse and bassist Garrett Sawyer’s studio, Northfire Studios, Spread Hope is a self-released labor of love that pays off with some of the catchiest and wide-ranged music. Most of the 16 songs have rapping from Force and lyrics, hooks, and choruses by both guitarist/singer Ian I and Ras Jahn Bullock. While Force is a fast-paced wordsmith with a contemporary frame of mind, Ian I has a melodic growl and Ras Jahn, who’s been playing reggae since before the rest of the band was even born, grounds the whole ensemble with a willowy wind of a voice.
If that weren’t enough, Jay Metcalf is a binding force behind the keyboards. Jumping from reggae rhythms to soulful organ, Jay’s keys sound great throughout the album. There’s also Garrett, an excellent bassist. His lines are movement-oriented, a gentle blend of funk and soul. The other part of the rhythm section is Demse, and on the most reggae’d out tunes with all the other musicians at times getting pretty rootsy, Demse’s style is beefed up by hip/hop and soul, and might be the stirrer in this audio melting pot. Matthew King offers up percussion, expanding the sound, creating dimensions.
Now to the album itself. Spread Hope opens with “Type A Prayer”, Ian I’s hook, a mix of soul and flow, over a keyboard patter. Soon after, Ras Jahn enters, saying, “We’ve got nothing to hide.” At first bat, “Type A Prayer” was a good choice for an opener. It simply can’t be categorized as any specific genre, although it’s so catchy and allows each singer plenty of room that any listener will shrug and say, “I don’t know what this is, but I like it.” By the time Force comes in we’re already invested.
“Let Them Know” is a more reggae’d tune, with added horns, something that doesn’t normally follow the crew on the road. The horns are an excellent addition. The keys sound like a Dr. Dre sample as Ras Jahn sings, “Babylon going down to Hell.” Ian I is by far the biggest dreamer of the singers. “Corruption not going to do it again,” he sings. “We won’t stop until a brighter day.”
Further down the line is “What We Need”, with guest appearances by Denroy Morgan and Catalyst. First is Force. “Spread hope like Obama,” he raps. “Let’s take a pause and remember when rap was all about the change.” The song is about needing new inspiration, and is sort of an autobiography for The Alchemystics, who have managed to freshen up the sound. “There’s nothing new under the sun,” Denroy sings, to add to that effect. The best part of this song, however, is Catalyst. The dude’s voice sounds like Jay- Z- no joke. He’s got excellent flow and fits in nicely with the vibe. “Let me grab your attention for a minute/to preach to the people about a little something different.”
A key track is “Be The Change”, an airy jaunt with female backing vocals. “Everyone wants to see a change in everybody else/nobody wants to see the change begins with themselves,” goes the chorus. The bass line is righteous and Ian I’s guitar play is a bit afrobeat. It’s a delicious summation of the band’s ability.
“Holiday” is Ras Jahn’s chance to sing out. The horns are a euphoric addition and this soulful, happy, hopeful tune builds on held out organ and Demse’s snappy drums. The “Doop-dabby-doop, dabby-doop-dap-day” refrain will get you singing along.
Finally, “Shine I” is the only real love song. The groove is really pretty and the hook is infectious. “Never met a girl like you,” Force quips. “One thing I know that’s true/this’ll put you in the mood/we can break a couple rules.” The bass is a low-end booty shaker. I love it!
Spread Hope’s content, despite having so much going on, is hopeful, (hence the name), and asks for unity, community, and believes in music. Will Force’s lyrics stand the test of time? I don’t know; they’re not all that timeless. However, they, along with the rest of the music, are like the Times balled up and presented. This album says, “This is what music is like today,” and it’s damn good.
Some groups of the ilk blend genres. Others mix one or more together or bounce from one to the next. The Alchemystics, however, fuse, like a pile of raw materials one day being a fort to trifle with today.
Bottom line: You definitely get your money’s worth with this richly thought out and complex album of conscious music.