Dubbin' It Live
Dub Trio come with a little novelty attached. Since dub reggae originally emerged from Jamaica as the almost accidental creation of studio engineers and producers, the concept of a band coming together for the express purpose of performing live dub music may seem strange. But that’s exactly the case with the New York City-based DP Holmes, Stu Brooks, and Joe Tomino. As others have with hip-hop and electronica, they aim to wrestle dub from the studio and DJs and bring it live to clubs and living rooms. And they couldn’t have chosen a more credible American label on which to drop their debut album, Exploring the Dangers Of, than ROIR, a well-established bastion of experimental reggae and dub.
Featuring five studio-recorded tracks with a minimum of overdubs and three tracks recorded live at Piano’s in New York, Exploring the Dangers Of reveals a band that hold a true reverence for dub pioneers from King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry to Adrian Sherwood and the Mad Professor. This isn’t just a bunch of hippies trying to work up extra money for their weed supply; Dub Trio are clearly serious about what they do. The rhythms are tight and the dubs are immaculately performed, so much so that, on the studio tracks especially, Dub Trio could easily be mistaken for a drum-machine-and-computer outfit.
Rumbling basslines? Trancelike tempos? Thundering echoes and washes of guitar? It’s all here. While Exploring the Dangers Of is hardly revolutionary, it’s not half bad. “Drive By Dub”, though, gets the album off to a weak start thanks to a cheesy keyboard riff. Dub Trio should know that the ‘80s were not exactly dub’s heyday. “Casting Out the Nines” rights the ship quickly, wafting in lazily and introducing what proves to be Dub Trio’s most unique and appealing feature: Holmes’s glacial, ethereal guitar effects reminiscent of those old British “shoegazer” bands like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine. Tomino adds tension with some skittering high hat, and the whole thing comes crashing down amid laser gun effects and echo chamber explosions.
From there, “Scoop and Smash Em” is an electro-tinged King Tubby/Augustus Pablo tribute, complete with Tomino’s weeping melodica. “Sick Im Kid” gets into illbient territory, with Holmes’ guitar effect creeping through radio static and Brooks’s hard-boiled bassline. “Real Wicked Ways” toys with drum-n-bass before wrapping up the studio portion of the album.
The live tracks are where Dub Trio really come into their own. Holmes’s ability to replicate his various guitar effects in a live setting is impressive, Tomino’s drumming is more vigorous, and the songs generally take on more energy without losing their hallucinogenic effect. The highlight of the entire album is the ten-minute-plus take on “Sick Im”. Holmes makes like The Edge on a bad trip before switching off the delay and launching into a space odyssey of reverb and feedback. Brooks’s bass starts to overdrive, and so does your brain before it’s all over. Live engineer Eran Malki does a great job, too, opening and closing channels for the maximum dynamic effect.
Exploring the Dangers Of ends with a strong suit, suggesting that the best way to experience Dub Trio is to see them perform live. In lieu of that, Exploring the Dangers Of, while certainly not an All-Time Must-Own, does a good job of showing listeners what dub’s all about, live or otherwise.