Album cover for Dub Catalyst - Saves the World

I love how dub has slowly unfolded across decades, with each generation maintaining the essential elements of the sound but adding their own cool, distinct additions to the mix. As 2024 is the fiftieth year since the issuing of “Pick a Dub”, usually considered the first album deliberately conceived as a dub whole in its own right, (Yes, I am aware that there are a number of contenders for originator of dub, don’t write in people!) it seems like a fine time to look around. What’s new in dub today? What’s new is “Dub Catalyst Saves the World.” A bold claim, but I think everyone could agree The World needs a fair bit of saving right now, so let’s listen in and see how they’re going to do it. What does the current generation bring to the Dub meal? How will they lift the spirits of a grizzled old listener like me? The answer is: a sweet new mix that touches the soul and soothes the mind. Dub Catalyst show off a new lighter mix, one that focuses on the treble, rather than the basslines which traditionally lead Dub records. This means the horn melodies are leading the songs and the sweet blend of female and male voices sounds light and sweet. However, the use in each song of scratching and rapping brings an edgy toughness that balances the sound and stops it completely floating away.

Dub Catalyst Saves the World

Opening number “Intro” showcases all this perfectly, with everyone in the band getting a moment to introduce themselves: reverbed horns that sway, impassioned rock guitar, urgent rapping, agitated scratching, dub drop outs from the rhythm section. It’s a great taster for the album. “Life” presents a sweet blend of male and female voices, gently insisting “Rising tides / At some point things will change”, offering a message of hope and positivity for turbulent times. Rapper JPDL roughs out the smooth edges with bite: “Fuck the ones that love to hate / They just can’t see for the edge of the frame”. His rapping is urgent but almost whispered, like that of Stereo MCs Rob B. This makes me want to listen hard, he’s got something to say, to communicate. The lyrical outlook here is positive, but not naïve – life is complicated but we must be hopeful for a better future.

“Ancestors” starts like an old Stax record, before breaking down for those sunny horns and singer Zak Hales: “Looking back on how you carried us / How you carried me forward” as the song encourages us not to throw away the valuable discoveries of the ancients even as the future seems to rush unstoppably towards us. In light of that idea, it’s appropriate that “Return of the Samuri” calls up the spirit of Steel Pulse’s “Prodigal Son”, with its stop-start introduction, its slides down the guitar neck for accents, and the thudding drum fills in the song’s empty spaces. “Coffee” spins a witty sharp rap using the ubiquity of the hot drink across society and in all social situations as a way of suggesting we all have more in common than what separates us. (It’s tea for me, mind – ha! But I get the point, I’d pop the kettle on for anybody.) The use of soprano saxophone in “Fury” gives a trippy, floaty feel, and it’s impossible not to think of Courtney Pine’s famous soprano saxophone solo that gave such a lift off on Bob Marley’s “Iron Lion Zion”. The use of staccato horn rhythms on Fury’s introduction also tips its hat in the direction of Marley’s song. This song is slow but tense, which is underlined by an edgy scratching solo, as JPDL implores us to “Understand what wealth truly means / Living in the moment / breathing in deep / consciously decide to be free”. “Butterfly” starts with a ferocious scratching solo, before giving way to almost a rock steady rhythm with a flowing melody on top that unfolds in stages. JPDL’s rap paints a beautiful picture of a child trying to catch a butterfly with a net, before shifting to compare the old philosophical theory about the flap of a butterfly’s wings causing a hurricane, to a single spark starting a fire, to acorns growing into oak trees, to fleeting conversations influencing the decision to push the nuclear button. “In every life a little rain must fall”, so the old proverb goes, and “A Little Rain” seems to want to musically represent this, as crash cymbals drenched in reverb collide together like storm clouds overhead. Melancholy chords and melodies lead the way for a rap that brings us the image of how rainbows and electrical storms can appear in the sky simultaneously. Two seemingly opposite phenomena can come together to make something more beautiful than they could manage alone; a lovely image of unity to carry in my mind in these cold, nasty, divisive times. As if to underline this, the band sweetly croon “Until next time / Until we meet again” on the lp’s final song, “Outro”. The melody is followed with a searing, sustained, emotional guitar solo that leaves you in doubt of the band’s heartfelt emotional commitment to this set of songs.

So, Dub Catalyst refresh dub with a sweet emphasis on the treble in the mix, without the usual dropouts and delay effects often used to transcending effect in dub. Instead scratching and whispered rapping, lift you up and carry you away. All this sets up a mix that frames the human voice effectively, and this is good as the voice is the key element in their sound, either through the rapping or the sweet melodies. And it’s that melodies, rather than the rhythms that rule in this Dub Kingdom. Dub Catalyst Saves the World? Maybe they have – their outlook is positive but not naïve; an outlook we could all do with keeping in our back pocket. Let’s end with an image from “A Little Rain”: “Separate entities that occupy the same sky / That bridge the divide in the space they reside / To understand its opposite each made a choice to try / Comprehending pain and rain and sunbeams delight / Concluded there’s a rhythm to melodies and lullabies / Despite their differences they are two of a kind / Realise that Power lies in what they bring combined / Triggering phenomena of colour in the sky. “

RIP Keith Woodhams

By: Eastside Jimmy

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