Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Foul Weather Clothes

We used to have a political reggae one called "Equality Street."

-David Brent, The Office


I can tolerate a degree of what I consider traditional reggae. I'm talking Bob Marley, Desmond Dekker, Peter Tosh and so on. I have no problem with hearing a little bit of a style that is so laid-back in cut-times, but too much can be aggravating and tortuous. Like my frustrations with the Tejano music I hear blasting out of cars around my neighborhood, the beat is at the forefront while limp melodies are there somewhere in the back.

When I was in college, I knew some people that were really into reggae. Yes, some were potheads, but some were not. The point is, I just couldn't understand how people could listen to those repetitive beats for hours at a time. Then again, I'm sure there are people that wonder how the hell I can listen to the fractured beats found in post-hardcore or the rocket-fueled beats found in pop-punk for hours at a time. But I argue there's more to the story than just the beats and rhythms in those styles of music. Something tells me that the people that actually like reggae, Tejano, rap and so on aren't just into it for the beats. Well, that's what I hear more than anything else.

With the brief explosion of ska-punk in the '90s with bands like Rancid, Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake and Goldfinger, I heard plenty of chicka-chicka guitar upstrokes and half-time drumbeats to last me a long time. While I really ate that stuff up at the time, I can only really stand to listen to a few songs at a time these days. What's interesting is that reggae stylings were found in a lot of punk rock at that time, but hardly ever in indie rock. As a matter of fact, I had never really heard them in indie rock until I received a record by a band that Nick helped put out a few months ago.

The band is called Pontius and they are from Chicago. Listening to their new record, Foul Weather Clothes, I hear a lot of traditional indie rock with a pretty successful infusion of reggae in a number of their songs. Rather than sounding like a band with diverging directions, these guys have put together some impressive sounds and feels. Sure, there are points that may make the flip-flops and dirty shirts crowd raise a beer and bop their heads, but this record doesn't sound tailored for them. This is more indie rock at its core than Exodus regurgitated.

I'm not implying that different makes something infinitely better, but when a band takes a style that is not traditionally kosher for indie rock and takes it on a nice melodic spin, I think that's cool. Pontius really makes me think that as does Tapes 'n Tapes. Here you have a band that has no real defined sound but that's a plus for these guys. I love their single "Insistor" with its fast, galloping country feel under a twisted ascending melody. As great as something like lush indie pop is, I can't listen to that all the time, so bands like these are a nice change of pace.

With that said, I'm reminded of legends like the Clash, the Specials, My Aim is True-era Elvis Costello and the Police. These acts embraced the chopped-up feels of reggae, but made them their own with plenty of other stuff going on at the same time. Reggae can be incredibly restricting as the focus is almost always on the upbeat. So whenever bands that aren't closely leashed to the boundaries of the music that they came from, the chances are better they can make something a bit more unique.


fuzzbuzz said...

If you haven't yet seen it I recommend "Punk:Attitude" by Don Letts which goes back to the roots of the scene and also shows you how reggae came into the punk picture. The DJ at the punk clubs was Don Letts himself and he played reggae between bands- hence introducing the kids to the sound that would later be incorporated into greats like The Clash and The Police. I believe Bad Brains should be given a nod and I recommend you searching out some old ska (Trojan label has some good stuff)to maybe delve a little deeper into the roots of reggae.

Eric Grubbs said...

'Punk: Attitude' is very well done. Plenty of ground is covered there, but I was a little annoyed at how the rest of the '80s and almost all of the '90s were skimped over.

Anyway, I've heard plenty of old reggae/ska music at the Smoke. I get such a kick out of the Northern Soul and the related, but I find the reggae sets to be challenging.

Believe it or not, but Bad Brains are actually brought up in my book. They were a major influence on Dischord.

fuzzbuzz said...

The Bad Brains are one of my fave bands. I didn't mind so much the 90's stuff being skimped on because I was around to see that and I know a lot of people just can't get into long periods of reggae. I think because Im a bass player it kinda draws me in. I had forgotten to mention in my earlier post a very interesting moment in the 90's that touches apon what you wrote about the indie scene. It was at a June of 44 show at The Argo and the opening band were dub-trance mesmerizers Sub Oslo. Some of the guys from June of 44 were in the back watching their set and I could really tell they were into it. Next thing you know their next album comes out and it has dubbyiness all over it. It was good and refreshing and kinda cool to see a band from our area influence them.

jen said...

now that was a good show....