Dub vamps! Get your one-chord dub vamps! Only you know whether you need any more one-chord dub vamps sitting around the house. Don’t worry; this is a safe place where no one will judge you. Not like Bulgaria. Did you know that in Bulgaria you can get one to six years just for possessing an Augustus Pablo album? Even if, like most people, you don’t actually listen to your Augustus Pablo albums, just keeping them on your shelf is enough. Upon entering jail they confiscate your keys, your driver’s license, and your melodica. It’s gotten so bad that a charity group, the Sofian Mission to Assist the Reclamation of Melodicas (SMARM), has begun teaching prison melodica bands the Balkan Brass repertoire. These bands require heavy amplification but they’re the New Sound of Tomorrow, polkain’ for a cause, and they need your support. Only beware — if you’re planning a mission trip to Bulgaria, the law does not distinguish between various dub-inspired world musics, so leave that Cachaito CD at home. Hillary Clinton’s got enough on her plate without having to clean up your international incident.
The selector here is DJ Kottarashky, aka mild-mannered Bulgarian architect Nikola Gruev, who combs the countryside with panache and recording devices looking for songs he can steal. Sorry, appropriate. Better yet, preserve for all time in a format young tastemakers will actually wanna listen to. He’s like the digital Béla Bartók, building bouncy little ditties around the music of The Folk. I do not know his financial arrangements with The Folk, so I’ll trust he does the right thing by them. Kottarashky’s 2009 album Opa Hey! manipulated voices, accordions, clarinets, brass, and surely melodicas in a variety of ways. It was fairly catchy and vibrant. This new one, Demoni, is something different.
You see, Kottarashky wanted to play live shows, so he formed a band and, because he is a huge fan of Joey Lawrence in the Blossom pilot, named his band the Rain Dogs. (In Bulgaria, compulsory reruns of Blossom air night and day.) Kottarashky lets the band surround his folksy samples with clarinet solos, mellow guitar patterns, and dubby riddims. Everything’s smooth and seamless, and the structure of opener “Aman Aman” is typical. Vaguely reggae syncopation sets up a groove, bass and drums are precise, percussion is worth listening to, solo solo solo, and then more sampled elements enter and the whole thing crescendos to the end. The brass lines and shrill woodwind warbles betray their Balkan roots, but everything else speaks the universal language of chill-out. At one point New Zealand singer Tui Mamaki stops by to recite some word jazz, but she’s the only one who messes with the formula.
It’s difficult to love or hate this album. On the one hand, the band and its leader obviously made their music with thought and care. On the other hand, they didn’t think or care about playing actual hooks. Some songs come close: the soul riff of “Doctore”, the opening accordion line of “Pancho Says”, and the pretty four-chord pattern of “Put a Blessing On” all create indelible moments, but they float disconnected from the rest of their songs while samples enter and dissipate. Kottarashky sometimes seems like a grinning vendor of sounds, spreading out his samples one by one on a table of Rain Dogs groove.
Of course, that’s what you expect with dub albums. But unlike the polite Demoni, great dub music messes with your head, like some grinning sound vendor out of a Jodorowsky movie. Sounds appear at unpredictable intervals, mixed louder than they should be as though they’re being dreamed. You want dub to lull you into the all-enveloping bass and then you turn around and OMG IT’S A HUMAN HEAD ON A PIKE. Or something. I am certainly not saying all Bulgarians put human heads on pikes; I’m not even saying that they should. All I’m saying is, if you gotta get busted for owning a world-dub-fusion album, you should pick something more interesting than this.