PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Bill Laswell: Book of Exit: Dub Chamber 4

Marshall Bowden

Bill Laswell

Book of Exit: Dub Chamber 4

Label: ROIR
US Release Date: 2002-11-05
UK Release Date: 2002-10-28
Amazon
iTunes

Bill Laswell's experimental dub series concludes with Book of Exit, a recording that seamlessly blends dub with Eastern music. Produced and arranged by Laswell, Dub Chamber 4 features vocals by Ejigayehu "GiGi" Shibabaw, drums and tabla by Karsh Kale, and percussion by Aiyb Dieng. Laswell , who also acts as producer/arranger, provides bass, guitar, and keyboards. Like the other Dub Chamber recordings in Laswell's Sacred System series-indeed, like virtually all of Laswell's work-Book of Exit is a marriage of musical styles and cultures.

Laswell has long been interested in dub music, a form created in Jamaica by legendary producers like King Tubby, Mad Professor, and Lee "Scratch" Perry. That interest seems natural considering the fact that dub strips music down to the drum and bass bone, then adds elements back in to provide coloring and flavor, much as a master chef adds spices to a recipe to create a unique dish. He has also done a lot of work with ambient sounds, creating soundscapes that can serve as foreground or background, allowing the mind to "space out" as in meditation. In Laswell's words: "I think it's just erasing thought and trying to disconnect the brain to just feel things ... it's just intuition." On Book of Exit he brings the space of dub together with the soundwashes of the ambient landscape and produces music that sounds as though it comes from a long lost civilization. It retains elements that we are familiar with, but the result is not completely like any of those elements.

The album begins with "Ethiopia", a piece featuring Laswell's ambient guitar figure bolstered by some percussion and the accents of Kale's tabla work. Ethiopian vocalist Gigi Shibabaw, whose voice is familiar to devotees of Laswell's recent recordings (she is featured prominently on the Tabla Beat Science recordings, among others), floats freely and lightly over this ethereal background. At times the sheer beauty of her voice recalls some of the more tender work of Sinead O'Connor. She's proven quite versatile, recording her own Laswell-produced album with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Pharoah Sanders. The track slides easily into the first dub piece, "The Lower Ground" which features melodica (or a melodica-like keyboard sound), recalling Augustus Pablo, one of the artists to whom the recording is dedicated (the other is Neil Cooper, who originally founded the ROIR label as a cassette-only enterprise). The track is spacey-both in its lightness and the profound spaces that are left in the music for accents and ornamentation. It's clear that Laswell has investigated the work of Tubby and Perry and understood its implications well, because he manages to capture the "heavy lightness" of dub. Because the bass on dub tracks is "heavy"-out front and often speaker-wobblingly loud compared to the rest of the mix, the resulting overall sound is one of weightlessness ("lightness"), mimicking the effects of heavy-duty ganja smoking which usually accompanies the mixing of dub music. Laswell's bass is more balanced in relation to the entire mix, but it is still out front and manages to convey the dub ambience well.

"Shashamani" is similar to the previous track, but things are even more down-tempo this time, with more echo-laden drum accents and some trippy guitar lines from Laswell. At this point listeners will either be deep into the soundscape that Laswell is presenting or incredibly bored, depending on their tastes. The fourth track, "Bati" brings the tempo up a bit, but remains heavily rooted in the dub aesthetic. Gigi returns to provide some wordless vocal flourishes that provide a melodic focus, drifting effortlessly in and out of the rhythmic gridwork established by Laswell, Kale, and Dieng. "Land of Look Behind" is ominous, with Laswell's bass positively booming over minimal drums and the melodica again rising to the fore. The final selection, the twelve-minute "Jerusalem" is another ambient piece that showcases Gigi's transcendent vocals. When Kale's table work finds a groove, the piece works slowly toward a rhythmic conclusion, with all the musicians cooking, one of the few times the music rises much above a whisper.

Because of the weighty, portentous sound of dub-heavy bass lines and the ethereal nature of the ambient sound washes together with Gigi's exotic voice, Book of Exit can't help but sound mysterious. It manages to stay away from vapid new age music, however, because the musicians do work together well, and because Laswell seems more interested in maintaining the spirit of dub than in using the sound as musical shorthand to spice up some kind of funky Third World stew. It is this commitment to the raw materials he throws into his cauldron that allows Laswell to come off as an intrepid musical adventurer rather than a culture pirate or a dilettante. Listeners who are willing to allow music to envelop them and unfold on its own terms rather than in ways dictated by Western notions of melodic and harmonic development will be well-rewarded by Book of Exit, and I highly recommend it to those listeners.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.