There is nothing quite like Super Ape. On first listen, the uninitiated are set up for disappointment—it’s a gateway but also a dead end into the world of dub and psychedelic reggae. There’s a legion of adjectives that fly fast and thick to describe it: dense, lush, and inimitable, it’s a critic’s wet dream. Above all, Super Ape is captivating. It’s one of those rare “masterpieces” that embraces you instead of demanding your concentration. From the irresistible call of the opening drums to the indeterminate farewell of the last, fading chant, the album incarnates a sonic world, a microcosm of rhythm, mix, melody, and toasting that, whatever your personal tastes, stands replete and to itself.
The ape of the title and of the outrageous cover art is meant to represent Lee Perry himself (the original LP was titled Scratch the Super Ape and had a different track order), and though the artist credit goes to the Upsetters. he does loom large over the music of Super Ape. He was never distinguishable from his house band anyway, but here the studio dub thoroughly supersedes the instrumentals. Perry has been praised by many for his skills as an arranger and coach to his session musicians, and this album is manifest proof of his talent for supervising each step of the process with an eye toward the final result. Even when his samples are taken from other completed songs, they feel authentic and utterly natural in dub. The innovative instrumental albums of his past show Perry doing just as much “dubbing” in the studio as he and his peers would eventually do after the fact, working with experimental effects and imbuing his music with an exceptional ambiance. In some ways, Super Ape is the conclusion of that process, a bona fide dub album built from the ground up.