Monday, June 18, 2007

African Head Charge - Great Vintage Volume I

Year: 1989
Genre: Dub

Highlight Tracks: "Beriberi", "Family Doctoring", "Hole in the Roof"

This first volume of Great Vintage collects the best tracks off the first two albums by African Head Charge (My Life In A Hole In The Ground and Environmental Studies). The series was produced by Adrian Sherwood for his On-U Sound record label.

Dub music is some of the best background music there is and the style of dub showcased on Sherwood's On-U Sound label is my favorite kind. Sherwood is an uber-producer who adds a spacey, electronic element to traditional dub to form a sort of industrial-dub. I have always felt that dub music is a direct ancestor of electronica and this African Head Charge volume provides a lot of evidence for that.

I don't know how dub musicians get the ideas for their music. Their music is almost alien in its use of bizarre sounds and super-complex percussion. The song structures are densely layered, with new elements being added in when you least expect them. All of these dub trademarks are reflected in trippy ambient electronica. The major difference is that the music here is being made organically rather than by machines. A fact that I find mind-blowing.

Through the use of production and recording tricks African Head Charge make drums, guitars, bass, and keyboards sound like instruments from another planet. Which is what I have always liked most about dub; the fact that it sounds so damn strange.

The two albums represented on this collection display two different aspects of African Head Charge.

The first seven songs sound a lot more cling-clang. Almost as if the music was being made with recycled junk. The pots and pans sound is enhanced by reverb mutated tribal chants and nature sounds filtered through blown boom-box speakers. A great example of what I mean is found on the track "Hole in the Roof" where rain sounds trickle over a percussive jam that sounds like it is coming from down the street while warbling buzzsaws echo over a faded-out horn section. The combined effect sounds like an orchestra made with broken instruments and yet somehow the song works beautifully.

The second seven songs benefit from much better production values and focus much more heavily on horns than the first batch did. The use of horns here ranges from traditional (almost slow ska) to the extremely bizarre. The genius of dub is what is done to alter trad instruments and what African Head Charge does with their horn section is incredible. Take for example the song "Beriberi" on which they apply an echo effect to the tail end of a repeated saxophone warble; it goes 0 to 60, from soothing to unsettling, in the blink of an eye. Another neat trick AHC pulls is cutting and looping distorted horns so that we only hear the tone-heavy middle of a horn blurt or the chopped off end of a trumpet blast being used to enhance the beat.

The press on African Head Charge usually focuses on their unique approach to percussion, which along with bass are the traditional centerpiece of dub music, but what makes them so exciting to me are the odd extra sounds they discover with their effect-laden horns and junk-pile instrumentation.


Mira said...

Interesting to know.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

i love AHC too. thanks for posting your thoughts on this compilation. was lucky to get a hold of it (vols 1 and 2) as i could not find 'environmental studies' or 'my life in a hole in the ground'.

i prefer organic acoustic instruments to electronics anyday, especially when it's done so creatively.