[12 November 2009]
Horace Andy rose to prominence in Jamaica in the late ‘70s, singing in his distinctive wail to the tune of reggae riddims. He has since put out more records than your grandparents’ garage sale, collecting an impressive discography that spans four decades and shows no signs of stopping. Alpha, a production duo from England, has been around for twenty less years, creating instrumental music in roughly the same vein as Massive Attack. The details on what initially brought these two entities together are vague, if extraneous, as the collusion between them seems natural, organic, and I daresay destined.
At any rate, Two Phazed People is the result, a record that manages a fine balance between dub, reggae, and, at times, a version of trip hop not unlike Portishead. Horace Andy, the still vibrant old soul of the Caribbean, is completely at ease regardless of the production format, his voice inflected with a subtle gravelly quality and an emotive tendency to waver, tremble, and shiver over the song’s words. This lends a transient sensation to the album, a fuzzy cloak of the ethereal that endures well after the vocals have faded and the music has finished bleeding through the speakers.
The record revolves around the song “Storm”, which opens the album and occurs two more times, seemingly at random, as remixes. This dual remix presentation seems like a strange choice for a studio album, but the various takes are so disparate as to appear totally unique. The original is pure headnodding dub, thumping along to glitchy percussion and ending in a spacey fadeout. The second “Shine Mix” is revamped into a bubbly echo-effect laden piece meant for skankin’ in timin’, and the final “Five Step Mix” minimizes the original’s vocals, allowing the synths to whir and bleep over a heavy bassline. Why this track in particular was chosen for such fervent reprisal is unclear, though I can say that it doesn’t detract from any consistency or come off as obnoxious. Sometimes material is original even when it’s redone.
But there’s more than just weather reports given in triplicate on Two Phazed People. “Make My Day” is carried by a repetitive bassline and Andy’s unrelenting optimism, droning on well past the eight-minute mark into indulgent trance territory. “Empress Lady” is a trippy ode to the fairer sex that Gregory Isaacs would be proud of, and “Declaration of Rights” is political reggae encouraging civil resistance that most people are quick to associate with Bob Marley. The album’s most undeniably energetic, if somewhat dark, track is “Believers”, featuring a gruff vocal cadence and a powerful guitar line. Even Andy’s cryptic repetition of the word “Ahem” is oddly infectious, so much so that I found myself repeating it as the song played in my head throughout the day, causing a few awkward social exchanges.
The downtempo “So Unfair” closes things out with an epically cinematic and arching keyboard flourish, cementing a dynamic value to Two Phazed People that is typically uncharacteristic of the loose reggae genre. With that in mind it is to Alpha’s credit that the production has such an impressive sonic range that still manages to remain steeped in Jamaican roots. Andy is unquestionably up to the task of his vocal duties, comfortably singing about life’s ills, the necessity of perseverance, and adherence to Jah’s will with a varied approach that never grows stale or weary. With the help of Alpha’s confident, well-crafted beats, Horace Andy proves that he is still in integral part of the music world, as important now as he was 30 years ago, achieving longevity through hybridization.