Pressure Points – John Brown’s BodyThe End of the Beginning – Roots of Creation
Easy Star Records 1013
The project of Pressure Points, the fifth studio release from John Brown’s Body, as recognized by its press release, was to siphon the "euphoric energy" of their shows into a sculpted and refined studio creation, and there, to a certain extent, lies the rub. Pressure Points suffers heavily from over production, vocal effects, and its queasy dancehall dub, excesses which aren’t entirely surprising given producer Alex Perialis’s previous endeavors with Ginuwine and Missy Elliot.
Coalescing with the significant dose of hippie sunshine that underlines the band's ethos, the resultant sound veers far more towards the realm of 311 and UB40 than the cited influences of Steel Pulse and Burning Spear. Yet John Brown's Body is indeed an accomplished band, throwing a mean live show (drawing supporting slots with moe., Dave Matthews, Spearhead, and Toots and the Maytals), oftentimes at ticket prices falling beneath the cost of your average album, which ultimately makes shelling out 15 dollars for this less authentic version of themselves an even less requisite act.
Despite tracks like the aptly named "Full Control," which boils things down to a more authentic, minimalist vibe ( Lee Perry's waxy beat, rebel bass, unfiltered vocals, etc.) and a fine assist from The Meditations on the equally clairvoyant "Not Enough," Perialis's polishing largely removes the visceral rawness of those live performances, and in so doing reveals a feeling of disingenuousness that hadn't previously existed, making the album feel something like a vintage Mustang with huge, gleaming rims, and herding the band's sound into contrivance.
"Reggae is protest formed out of suffering," Jamaican trombonist Rico Rodriguez once said. "What I was playing was what I felt, hardship played out of the horn." Primordial reggae, at its best, was minimal and direct, the waxy beat and threatening Reel bass leaving enough space to accommodate the repressed ferocity that founded its emotive core. It may be presumptuous or overly simplistic to say that the fact that the average American reggae band is filtering foreign struggle — both in the national and emotional sense — through its own virginal collective consciousness equates to its diluted authenticity and ineffectiveness. After all, as artists from Plant to Clapton to the Black Keys serve well in demonstrating, it worked out okay for the Blues.
What is fair to say, however, is that reggae has been another story, a tale neatly encapsulated in both the moniker and album of Roots of Creation, a New Hampshire based quartet that falls prey to the nebulous cloud of drum circle pretense, outlined by a sinister emo subconscious, that pervades white-boy reggae.
The self-released album is weighed heavily down by inept and, at times, intensely irritating songwriting drawing heavily on pot smoke metaphors, questionable puns, trustafarian clichn its labored attempt at sounding socially and spiritually conscious. Ultimately, songs helplessly channel more of the southern New Hampshire towns from which the group hails than the global angst that they strive for, and the band comes out sounding like a more jam-oriented Dispatch.
"Rasta Man came to me asking for change
Sorry man I aint got no sense
That's OK man but don't you know
How many volcanoes are in the world
I guessed a thousand or so
He replied, no no no
There is only one volcano
One volcano in the world
And into the chorus: "It all comes down to one volcanoe."
And so on.
Such flaccid philosophical embroidery obscures the band's instrumental talents and eclectic tastes, qualities that would have formed a viable album had they been left untouched by their desire to seem profound. "Tribute to Gary," layering taut funky basslines under deft keys, "Hard Dub," an amalgam of growling, distorted guitar over an aggressive dub scaffolding and spacey , shifting atmosphere, certainly suggest as much. "Fusion Illusion," as advertised, unearths a surprising jazz competency in its evocation of an intimate Village jam session.
The press release for RoC claims they've acquired quite a following within the jamband community (in case you haven't heard) , and if that statement is valid, the band might best interpret that as a sign to do what it appears to do best, discard the frat-hall Rasta posturing and cleave deeper into the heart of its improvisational capabilities, or — in short — cut the bullshit and be itself. Artists like RoC don't seem to be able to grasp the idea that the most poignant global and moral statements sublime out of personal narrative, that an artist's ability to create abstraction and unconscious meanings in his work is predicated on a sense of specificity, and that the adaptation of a sound is predicated on making it one's own. Case in point: Clapton, who filtered the romance, sex, and torment of the blues through their own intimate heartbreak, making them inter-illuminating. Sacrificing that sense of personal investment and leaping directly to metaphor and imitation, groups like RoC only wind up falling into the pool of white-boy reggae acts producing what might essentially serve best as Jamaican elevator music, mildly amusing and dismissible.