If Ur Chest Ain't Rattlin' It Ain't Happenin'
Like many of the big names in dubstep, Tectonic’s DJ Pinch is currently making a transition from a primarily singles and club-based medium to the full-length CD. Underwater Dancehall is his first album, a double-CD with one disc devoted to instrumental only versions of 11 tracks, the other incorporating vocals from Juakali, Yolanda, Rudee Lee, and Indi Khur. Unlike some full-length dubstep releases, however, including the remarkable Skull Boy Disco set, Pinch’s record isn’t primarily a reworking of existing materials, but rather a collection of tracks that were intended to work as a whole.
The first disc, the one with vocals, is fairly accessible, the complexities of Pinch’s beats overlaid with sounds and styles that casual listeners will be able to relate to. It starts with album highlight “Brighter Day”, which is based on an earlier single, Pinch’s “Qawwali”. Here the cut’s cool, menacing beat, which flares suddenly with ominous melodica, is layered over with the dancehall chant of Juakali. Juakali, based in Brooklyn, heads New York’s Dub War nights and sings with the dub band Babylon Station. On “Brighter Day”, he is fierce and impassioned, his Jamaican-accented vocals answered now by a chorus of himself, now by an evil blurt of synthetic sound. It’s a fascinating mix of the organic and the electronic, third world heat and post-industrial chill, call-and-response communalism and heads-phones alienation. Juakali performs on three of the album’s ten vocal-embellished cuts, somewhat more conventionally (and less interestingly) on “Gangstaz”, and with an eerie, shout-spoken power on next-to-last “Trauma”.
Juakali’s cuts draw heavily from reggae, but two sung by the one-named Yolanda lean more towards R&B. Her best cut, “Get Up”, hitches the slinkiest, most sensual kind of soul singing to a clinking, popping, scatter-shot rhythm that stops and starts and doubles back on itself in pretzel-like syncopation. The singing is smooth, the beat is slippery-complicated, and yet the two work beautifully in conjunction with each other. “Battered”, with its quiet washes of tone and whispered vocals, at first seems less difficult, less impressive, and yet here, too, the sleekness of the singing reinforces the rumbling, body-moving force of the beat.
The second disc strips away the vocals, leaving only the underlying beats. As such, it gives itself up more slowly, requiring a freeform, body-centered kind of listening that focuses on rhythm, sensation, and varying levels of intensity. And yet, disc two, played at high volumes, is in some ways a more enveloping experience. You feel the bass-tones. You twitch in response to the shuffle of various kinds of percussion. You lose yourself in the undulating long tones of synthesizer. You realize in disc two that the title is really apt. You are underwater, moving through cool currents of sound, and you are
dancing. And that alone may be worth the price of admission.