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Deadbeat + Paul St. Hilaire
The Infinity Dub Sessions Albert Freeman , March 18th, 2014 10:19

Since its invention and innovation in the early-to-mid 1990s at the hands of the Basic Channel crew, there have been few genres of music so completely owned by one small group as dub techno is by the artists of the literally-named Chain Reaction label. It is a formidable legacy as well as a diverse one, which made it all the more intimidating to approach, especially after Chain Reaction exploded the envelope in many directions at once while simultaneously debuting many producers who remain legends in their own right. Indeed, it is not uncommon to dismiss any developments that happened afterwards – in many cases fairly – as rehash, or at best filling in small blanks of a canvas mostly already complete.

There is an error in such judgments, however, and it is nowhere better demonstrated than in the work of Deadbeat, whose arrival on the scene in 2000 was already quite late, but whose music has always distinguished itself with a roots flavor, emotionalism, and deeply layered texture that his German peers' dryer ideas did not reach. Reggae fanatics they are, and even at their most roots-influenced, Rhythm & Sound's sparse constructions forwarded extreme technical innovation while letting the featured vocalists carry the feelings of the tunes. Almost without exception, their instrumentals were textural affairs full of rhythmic intricacies but without the emotional depth of the vocal sides. Taking into account Deepchord and Echospace, whose blissed-out takes on dub are psychedelic in the same manner as kosmische, Deadbeat – born Scott Monteith – has been one of very few who have managed to balance the experimentation in textures, rhythmic heft, and emotional depth of Jamaican dub, while updating it for the 21st century.

He has also been consistently one of the subgenre's most accomplished producers. Monteith's early records, which bore as clear of debt to Kingston as they did to his Berlin forbears, eventually led him into a hyperproductive, wandering career that integrated shades of minimal, dancehall, IDM, and many other ideas into his music. The arrival of his tellingly-named BLKRTZ label in 2011 also signaled a return to his roots and to a new focus, but even since then he has managed sidelong dub techno explorations, the bass music-influenced Eight, remixes of the Orb featuring Lee 'Scratch' Perry, and now a new long player featuring foundational vocalist Paul St. Hilaire that finds both artists on top form.

If the label had already released a few singles that hinted at the riches here, BLKRTZ has to date turned heads mostly for the strength of its new Deadbeat albums. The Infinity Dub Sessions is no exception. Much like the steady skank of a quality reggae set, Monteith is adept at shifting the accents in many directions, even as the pulse remains similar. Both the vocals and the rhythmic accents get sucked into deep wells of echo with expert details on the mixing board, and the kind of density that results sends St. Hilaire on one of his best recent performances, sounding both notably Jamaican and completely inspired throughout. This is not the lazy, spaced-out dub techno that serves as wallpaper music in many clubs, but rather a pitch-perfect hybrid of true island spirit and bass weight meant to send attentive listeners spinning on the dancefloor.

It should be remembered that Jamaican dub itself is the epitome of a heads' genre, due to the extensiveness of re-used material, the necessity of revisiting it from various angles, the sometimes-numbing repetition of musical content, and the relatively subtle differences that mark a genius producer over many similar peers. It is a genre that produced much talent but few true legends, because it is music of extensive detail that must be taken in closely to mark the differences. As dub techno is its most faithful descendent, many of the same rules apply. Nowhere here does Montieth take to attention-grabbing tactics to make his impact; instead he constructs complex webs of bass, percussion, vocals and effects that ebb and rise to surprising heights, inspiring the dramatic chats his deejay unfurls over them. There's less structure to St. Hilaire's performances than there is within the more song-like classics that define the genre, and if they aren't the endless cascades of gestures familiar from a sound system, they take something of that approach with a feeling that leads ever inwards and upwards.

If an overall "session" idea pervades, taken track-by-track the album is often equally strong. The rumbling bass, ominous synths, and unsettling atmospheres of opener 'Hold On Strong' inspire the vocalist into a building, mantra-based chat whose meaning becomes darker and more pointed with each cycle. After a mostly-textural dub track in the middle, classic themes of liberation, imprisonment, and suffering are taken up again by the vocal-heavy 'What The Heck Them Expect'. The production, featuring billowing, reverb-submerged snare hits and pointilistic woodblocks, could only be the work of Monteith. This side again ends in a more abstract, effects-focused effort that makes good use of the extra space to show off the producer's studio expertise.

The slowly modulated, building techno-style synthesiser sequence with scratchy, deeply effected rhythmic elements that features in 'Rock Of Creation' is powered by an understated bass pound that propels the highly experimental piece with much more than the expected weight. It begins the album's second half, which is entirely more forceful and techno-centric with a clear 4/4 pulse under each track. This doesn't mean the rhythms straighten out or settle down entirely; rather Deadbeat layers the pulse over all matters of moving accents in thick carpets of rhythm and sound. This is particularly noticeable on the excellent closer 'Peace And Love', where an implied tribal feeling conferred by a drum sample contrasts a pendulous dub bassline and a 4/4 house beat. The richness sends St. Hilaire tumbling over the edge, shouting asides like classic Jamaican deejays before reordering his rhythmic approach forcefully at the floor in a short segment of high-impact bars. It's easy to see what sent him there.

Strong albums are often born of strong collaborations that mutually inspire their participants. Montieth's previous LP Eight offered some very tasty snippets with its revolving door guest policy, but the depth which the duo reach here is unusual for both. Paul St. Hilaire will forever be the singer most associated with dub techno and Deadbeat a producer of great dexterity as well as a fierce reggae selector, but allied on The Infinity Dub Sessions they prod each other towards their respective strengths for a truly sublime combination.

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