Sunday, December 4, 2016

Striving: A Look At The New 4-CD Adrian Sherwood On-U Sound Box Set From Cherry Red Records

You want to start to understand the importance of Adrian Sherwood? You have just a basic understanding of dub? Start here. Buy this set immediately. Dread Operator - From the On-U Sound Archives - Produced by Adrian Sherwood, out now from Cherry Red Records, is a 4-CD crash course that will make crystal clear why Sherwood, and these assorted musicians, are so crucial, their music so vital, and their legacy so large.

First up in this set is the 1984 Leaps and Bounds collection billed to Singers and Players. Highlights here are "Striving", all Bim Sherman yearning and smooth vocalizing, and "Moses" with Congo Ashanti Roy. The "Players" here include Prince Far I, Mikey Dread, Sherman, and a few other big names. If the set feels like the most accessible of the 4 in this box, then that makes it an easy way to work your way into the world of Sherwood's sound.

The second disc in this collection is the superb Threat to Creation (1981) from Creation Rebel/New Age Steppers. Largely instrumentals, the cuts here showcase the kind of deep rhythmic hooks Sherwood was fond of. The genesis of the fame of the On-U Sound sound is here. Trippy dub like "Ethos Design" prefigures the kind of stuff Sherwood would bring to remixes of Primal Scream, for example, decades later. The skittering "Last Sane Dream" echoes the sort of thing bands like Gang of Four and P.i.L. -- (Keith Levene is on this record) -- were pursuing in this era, while the spacious and space-y title cut is unlike most of the reggae you've probably got in your collection. If nothing else, Sherwood, as shepherd of this flock of players, brought a sense of the modern to this music, bridging the worlds of post-punk and dub with ease. If "Ghost Town" by The Specials was the sound of new England, the plot lost and pub closed, then "Painstaker" is the bleak, mecchanik reggae beat as if it's been re-imagined by some folks at Factory Records. And what I'm trying to say is that this cut is as futuristic and vital as that from Dammers and his lot. Entirely unlike probably anything being made in the U.K. at the time (aside from Throbbing Gristle sides), this sort of material is both an injection of bleak postmodernism into the rich reggae tradition, but also an attempt to expand the form and find a new audience beyond the proverbial dancehall. If you need one reason you must buy Dread Operator - From the On-U Sound Archives - Produced by Adrian Sherwood, let it be Disc 2.

Lows and Highs (1982) was billed to Creation Rebel but it's a far more straightforward release than anything else in this collection. If the epic "Rubber Skirt (Parts 1/2/3)" sounds like ska stretched into something relaxing and soothing, "Rebel Party" is pure crowd-pleasing reggae of the sort not meant to ruffle too many feathers. Sherwood may have pushed the envelope more times than not but on this release he's bringing things in from too far out, stuff like "Love I Can Feel" being as mainstream as -- gasp -- early UB40 tracks.

Dread Operator - From the On-U Sound Archives - Produced by Adrian Sherwood closes with the fantastic Wild Paarty Sounds Vol. 1 from 1981. A compilation from acts who probably only existed in the studio, the sounds here range from the protest rock of "Things That Made U.S." from Jeb Loy and the Oil Wells, to the Bollywood-meets-electro-clash of "Asian Rebel" by Sons of Arqa. Elsewhere, the essential "Quante Jubila" from Prince Far I and Creation Rebel offers up somewhat accessible dub that's still a good taste of the genius of the Sherwood approach to producing. If "Quit the Body" by the inexplicably-named The Chicken Granny is nearly punk, then "Afghani Dub" by The Mothmen is dub that's near industrial in approach, the drums clanging ominously and the guitars sounding like slowed-down sirens. The echo of the dire present of early Eighties Thatcher England is here.

Dread Operator - From the On-U Sound Archives - Produced by Adrian Sherwood is absolutely essential. If you have even a little bit of interest in the studio wizardry of Adrian Sherwood, or in the legacy of Prince Far I, or the birth of deep, heavy dub, buy this. Don't even hesitate. Groundbreaking, forward-looking, and utterly unlike anything you've heard, the music here -- especially Disc 2, Threat to Creation -- is the sort of thing to entirely change the way you hear reggae and so-called "dance" music. Radically beyond genre labels and entirely rooted to reggae traditions, the tunes on this 4-CD set blew my mind, to put it simply. I had a working knowledge of some of Adrian Sherwood's stuff but I think I wasn't aware of the expansiveness of his vision until I heard this set, which is to say that I didn't know he had his hand in anything as seemingly mainstream as a few cuts on that Lows and Highs release. Still, even when the material is concise and direct, there's something interesting going on in the production or instrumentation and the hand of maestro Sherwood is surely at the controls of all of these tracks. And for that reason, a listener is rewarded at every point of this compilation.

Out now via Cherry Red Records, Dread Operator - From the On-U Sound Archives - Produced by Adrian Sherwood is worth your time and money. Buy it as soon as possible.

More details on Adrian Sherwood via his official website:

[Photo: Adrian Sherwood's website]