It may be hard to believe, but it is now ten years since The Black Seeds first graced the Capital with their unique party sound. With four albums under their belt now, and a serious legion of fans in both Aotearoa and Europe, its been a pretty remarkable journey for this eight-piece band. To celebrate reaching double figures, they have release their new album – Solid Ground.
My first impressions of the album are very positive. However, before I get my review underway, I should probably say that I wasn’t really expecting this to be all that good.
The local dub/roots scene seems to have lost a bit of momentum in recent years. Since the golden period between 2003-06 there hasn’t really been all that much to get excited about. Recent releases from the likes of Katchafire and Cornerstone Roots were a bit of a step backwards for mine, and most of the second-generation New Zealand roots groups coming through seem to have pretty much just followed an already well-worn path.
So it’s not surprising then that there has been a bit of a public backlash. For example a Sunday Star columnist recently suggested that the only people still listening to Fat Freddys were 50 year-old mothers. This is probably a bit of an exageration but it would be fair to say that some people now think that ‘the Wellington dub scene’ has become a tad-cliched. Hopefully Solid Ground might go some way to changing that.
Despite the relatively quick turn-around since releasing Into the Dojo in 2006, I reckon this album is a real step forward for The Black Seeds. In many ways it is a logical progression from Dojo, its still includes all the key ingredients of their funk-infused reggae sound. The upbeat skanking rhythms, their trademark horn section and Barnaby Weir’s ‘more kiwi than Watties sauce’ vocals providing honest and socially-conscious lyrics.
However there are several aspects of Solid Ground that seperate it from their earlier work. Right from the get go I was struck by the strong vintage vibes present in this album. These retro-vibes come through both in the rhythms – which demonstrate a stronger appreciation of early Jamaican roots/rock-steady (on Bulletproof), and in the production of Dr Lee Prebble who has clearly used an array of analogue gadgetry to achieve a really warm, phat sound.
Solid Ground also seems more musically-diverse than their earlier work. Although most of tracks of have a firm Jamaican foundation, the album presents a real mash-up of different genres. As well as reggae and funk, their sound traverses a variety of genres including electro (especially in the synth bass-lines on tracks like Slingshot and Rotten apple), afro-beat (Afrophone), Psychedelic-downbeat (The Bubble).
I should also point out that The Black Seeds have really tightened up their musicianship. However I guess anyone who saw them play over the summer would already know that.
If I was to level any criticism against the album it would be that it occasionally falls into the beach reggae category (Love is a Radiation). This isn’t all that bad a thing – hearing Barnaby croon about love on a summer’s day at Waihi beach would be very pleasant – however sometimes I like a bit more militance in my reggae.
Still, the bottom line is that this a really good album. It’s got the funky pop sensibilities to please the masses but at the same time it has a real mature feel about it. So I think that whether you’re a die-hard roots fan, or just someone looking for an easy-listening summer album, you’ll find something to like about Solid Ground.