Two new local mixes rework the sound of summer
Published: August 10, 2011
Cex and Jason Urick
Dial Tone Earth
An aphoristic gem stumbled across on the internet: “The farther you get from the ocean, the worse reggae sounds.” (Thank you, Tess Lynch.) This is not to say that the Chesapeake Bay equals Montego Bay, but, yeah, something about the one-drop and its corresponding bottom end vibrating the molecules of humid sea-level air makes more sense than such skank might in, say, the Coors-clear skies of Colorado. And not only is there music of place, there is also music of season: The spacey bass and hazy echoes of dub reggae sound like a stinking hot summer dusk feels.
Two new releases with Baltimore provenance appropriate a bit (or more) of that summery, dubby vibe. Former Baltimorean/current Portland, Ore., resident Jason Urick teams with Cex (aka former City Paper contributor Rjyan Kidwell) to re-dub a stack of actual dub platters on the Watercolor Records-released mixtape Title King. Co La’s Dial Tone Earth (Friends Records) isn’t anyone’s idea of reggae, but this new solo project from Ecstatic Sunshine’s Matt Papich boasts a certain rhythmic spring and melodic buoyancy that make it feel like a bright summer morning.
The recordings ganked for Title King are already set up in typical dub form: The track starts off relatively straight, for a few bars and maybe a vocal hook, and then heads increasingly into funhouse mirrors of delay, echo, and cut-up rearrangement, emerging in an uncanny new shape. Here Urick and Kidwell—working with largely instrumental cuts from the likes of producers Mad Professor, Lee Perry, and Scientist—double down on that process, adding more layers of post facto manipulation that tend to build as each numbered-not-titled track progresses.
Little fragments of wah-wah guitar (already a heavily effect-altered sound source) were originally shot through an echo unit, most likely in some sweaty Kingston studio three-plus decades ago, only to re-emerge here on “Track 03,” further altered into a chittering, thready digital pulse driving the midrange the way the bass drives the bottom end. Urick’s tracks—his are the even numbers, it seems, as opposed to Kidwell’s odd ones—veer more directly into relative abstraction, with “Track 04” a lulling mass of smeary sounds and slo-mo beats and the nine-minute-plus “Track 06” ambling along at a draggy crawl, a stoner sunrise with what sounds like a heavily chopped-up horn section. Part of the fun of Title King is trying to spot where and how (and sometimes if) the original dubwise tweaks were retweaked, but it’s plenty fun to ignore all that and just let the mix reverberate around your head.
Matt Papich’s music over the past few years has been more easily defined by its lack of a consistent shape rather than any particular style or approach; his music under the Ecstatic Sunshine moniker evolved quickly from the frenetic guitar duo of its early days to a catch-all experimental rubric. Under the handle Co La, he seems to concern himself with something like pop music of a strain that somehow splits the difference between Black Dice and Arthur Lyman (or maybe Mouse on Mars and Popol Vuh). There is a distinct “beautiful music” feel to the discrete string sample that opens Dial Tone Earth, making its way gently forward over a ping-ponging beat. There are track names here, but the whole 46-minute release (released via cassette tape and download only) plays out as one varied but seamless whole. That means it’s hard to say which track it is about 20 minutes in that sounds like Disney march music, or the one following that combines a motorik groove with pillowy synth chords, much less obsessively hit back or rewind to repeat them. A few tracks ride a subtle reggae groove and feature snatches of vocal sample that could have been pinched from one of Urick and Kidwell’s cast-off platters. The pop-song-short piece that ends the recording sounds like the soundtrack for a tropical-themed party at the Copy Cat, all ballroom rhythm and chirpy melody. But an equally key touchstone/soundalike here is ’90s-era IDM, a connection that’s not hard to make when a fuddy-duddy voice-over from what sounds like some old instructional record provides a segue into a few tracks.
Indeed, these two dance-y if not danceable aural headtrips have a lot in common with the IDM of yore, a scene that Urick and Kidwell participated in to one degree or another. Given music this blatantly enjoyable on its sunny surface merits, it hardly matters how you file it. If nothing else, the obvious pop knack and clear vision Papich displays on Dial Tone Earth makes Co La a project to watch, no matter how far your drive to the beach.
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