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Sherwood and Pinch – Late Night Endless

On-U Sound/Tectonic

Sherwood and Pinch - Late Night Endless One of the genre’s key figures joins forces on Late Night Endless with a genuine wizard of the mixing desk to put the dub back into dubstep (something which it has probably needed for a long time — a bit like post-rock, which used to be about so much more, seems on occasion to have become shorthand for instrumental prog-rockishness and feelgood epic FX blather, what gets called dubstep is all too often just a bunch of wobble bass and ravetastic blether in the wrong hands) while giving a fresh makeover to the ever-evolving On-U Sound discography, old and new.

Continuing a tradition of venerable (OK, Adrian Sherwood‘s not that old) dub maestros teaming up with their younger disciples over the years — as Lee Perry has with both the Mad Professor, for instance, and Sherwood; and Scratch’s vocals make guest appearances on Late Night Endless too — to produce records which draw on lessons in soundcraft and technology that each can pass on to the other, showcasing the sharing of technique and knowledge of how a mix can be made to shimmer and shine. When the cross-generational encounters work, their sum becomes so much more than the raw skills that each has in their own field of expertise, and from the evidence of this album as well as the two 12″ EPs which preceded it, Pinch and Sherwood mesh superbly well together at the controls.

Of course, Adrian Sherwood has thirty-odd (count ’em) years of some of Britain’s heaviest dub and reggae recordings to draw on, and he and Pinch do so extensively here in varying styles, from the ethnodelic sweetness of “Stand Strong”, where Temi “Queen” Odeyale‘s vocals hint at the rainforest but end up reminding that Sherwood helped create African Headcharge as a much heavier, far dreader response to Brian Eno and David Byrne‘s “vision of a psychedelic Africa” as laid out on their My Life in a Bush of Ghosts.

With what are presumably Rob Ellis‘s tearing analogue synth basslines thundering under, the mood is doubtless pleasant enough, but the edge and drift are still present – which means that even if this ends up as music for car commercials (let’s hope not) or soundtracking the endless vistas of savanna and dustbowl African clichés which television documentaries are so fond (perhaps a more likely prospect), then it won’t entirely be Sherwood and Pinch’s fault for having created something so evocative of a place. Meanwhile, “Africa 138” draws on the musical signifiers of an immense and diverse continent to produce a coruscating deep low-end shuffler which at once recalls Pinch’s collaborations with another On-U acolyte and leftfield stepper, Shackleton, while being very much moulded in the expert hands of Sherwood himself.

It’s reasonably futile even attempting to place responsibility for any particular shuddering tone or twist of effects processing at the deft hands of either maestro; while others are obviously drawn from Sherwood’s vast library of sounds. On-U stalwart Skip McDonald‘s piano, guitar and bass find themselves repurposed and rejigged here, mixed up once again among many of his fellow travellers including the likes of British and Jamaican reggae vocalists and deejays such as Congo Ashanti Roy, Mikey Dread, Congo Natty, Prince Far-I, Bim Sherman and Bernard Fowler.

Likewise, the late Andy Fairley‘s super-heavyweight “Precinct of Sound” brings remembrance shuddering back as to how great a trip his System Vertigo LP for On-U Sound was way back in 1992; here, given a bassy stereo-abusing makeover, it’s salutary to recall that Fairley’s album was (alongside the similarly warped Missing Brazilians LP)  at the forefront of all those jarring, slurring effects which so many dubstep producers have learned from and made accepted and normal today. That was Sherwood’s doing too, but Fairley’s warning that “Your head will become a crazy bulbous punchbag of sound” has rarely seemed so apt as it does when Pinch and Sherwood update the pressure, and other words Fairley recorded to tape 23 years ago seem just as prescient as they were then: “Your initiation has just begun”.

Singers and Players‘ “Run Them Away” ends the album in a slice of haunted clockwork dubstep which sounds at once so familiar yet so very far along the road from where On-U Sound’s collection of musicians and poets came from in the first place three decades and more ago. Sherwood and Pinch have successfully breathed new vigour and vim into two genres which (just as with, say, rock and roll and trad jazz) have had an unfortunate tendency to stick to the tried and tested formulae once they became established, easily recognisable, marketable and above all safe formats.

So while “Bucketman”’s roaring praises of the herb from Daddy Freddy may be familiar, perhaps even comfortingly so, to anyone who’s listened to many roots reggae and dub tracks, or the drifting psychedelic vocals and rhythms of “Wild Birds Sing” slides languidly into the realms of lava lamps and joss-stick ambience, they do so spaciously and without descending blithely into self-pastiche. Where Late Night Endless works best, such as on “Precinct of Sound” – and “Different Eyes” pulls off the same trick but with a different mood thanks to Ghetto Priest‘s rootsier singing – is where the familiar is updated, but with a firm ear both for the traditions and still-unexhausted possibilities of the mixing desk.

-Linus Tossio-

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