Playlist (November/December 2017) | Music Reviews

This month’s listening picks

ChronologyStony HillLong Over DueNormal

Chronology

Chronixx (Virgin EMI Records)

Chronixx, a young powerhouse reggae singer who appeared on the cover of Caribbean Beat earlier this year, is among a cadre of musicians marking a roots reggae revival in the contemporary dancehall-saturated industry of island music. That revival may be more of a new reckoning of the universality and adaptability of reggae, as Chronixx takes musical cues from a range of genres — including rap, R&B, and EDM — to energise the music without the sound becoming too diluted. The track “I Can” has the anthemic quality of a Coldplay song, while “Black Is Beautiful” rings with the Caribbean hip-hop of Wyclef Jean (it samples early Fugees). The lyrics have an edge without being too sharp to ward off new converts. The themes are celebratory of Jamaica, and touch on love and hope, racism and poverty, without banging you over the head with a big stick. With this album as an early career signpost, Chronixx — only twenty-four — is the hopeful future of reggae.

 

Long Over Due

Leston Paul (self-released)

From the arranger who gave the world’s most popular soca song (Arrow’s “Hot, Hot, Hot”) a life of its own comes a new album that runs the gamut from Caribbean soul to smooth jazz to new soca fusion. Long Over Due has a technical gloss and aural sheen that suggest Leston Paul’s production values are on par with the best in the industry anywhere. In a style that can be seen as a Caribbean parallel to Quincy Jones’s during his Back on the Block era, Paul harvests the talents of a number of Trinidadian musicians and singers to the best of their ability to give an overview of the range of music that is celebrated in these islands. From the languid elegance of “Night and Day” to the tongue-in-cheek nod to the classicism of calypso legend Kitchener’s “Pan in A Minor” — complete with faux orchestral strings — to the soulful strut of “Lots of Talk” and “Mt Irvine Beach Jam”, this album is a satisfying exercise in Caribbean music genre fusion.

 

Stony Hill

Damian “Jr Gong” Marley (Republic Records)

Damian Marley has released a new eighteen-track album of hits which not only carry on the Marley name as a focal point for global reggae relevance, but satisfy the idea that the next generation of reggae, born in the new millennium, has not abandoned its raison d’être as Jamaica’s “main collective emotional outlet.” From a stream of consciousness polemic on the problematic present and uncertain future (“Time Travel”) to an ode to “herb” (“Medication”), Stony Hill has everything essential. Tracks like “Looks Are Deceiving” and “The Struggle Discontinues” remind the listener of his father’s soulful drawl on a classic reggae vibe, while “Grown and Sexy” and “Perfect Picture”, both collaborations with Jr Gong’s brother Stephen, have a Drake-reminiscent sound. That duality should keep reggae listeners happy, as this album covers all bases in a slick and satisfying way to rekindle the hope that this island music is fluid and will never die.

 

Single Spotlight

Normal

Freetown Collective (self-released)

“Rob the bank normal and buy a Range Rover normal / Lie to the people normal, practice evil normal.” These lyrics, sung by Freetown Collective’s Lou Lyons and Muhammad Muwakil, suggest or possibly reflect a cynical take on life in modern Trinidad and Tobago. A generation born in the 1980s has struggled through the posturing of island politics to render its impressions and observed reality as a ceaseless litany of the agonies and ironies of woeful living for the ninety-nine per cent below the line. Freetown Collective are modern calypsonians unhinged from the melodic template of the past century, but aware of the lyrical tradition. With a trap music production aesthetic, the song’s angst-filled vision generates a head-bopping reaction reminding the listener that, just like calypso, behind every good groove there is a message that takes notice of another side of our local existence.