Deadbeat and Paul St Hilaire: The Infinity Dub Sessions

No one is more deserving of respect than Scott Monteith for how he's remained true to the dub-wise vision of his long-standing Deadbeat project. Though it has changed over time, Monteith has never compromised on the integrity of the Deadbeat sound by allowing it to be overly influenced by trends and thereby accepting whatever short-term benefits might accrue from doing so. Few have stayed the course so resolutely, and for that admiration and respect are warranted. His latest Deadbeat outing, a fifty-minute collaboration with vocalist Paul St Hilaire (aka Tikiman), changes things up in a way that's dramatic yet still natural; if anything, it's the kind of move that leaves the listener familiar with the project since its inception wondering why it didn't happen earlier, especially when the pair's first meeting occurred a decade ago at the first Micro Mutek event in Montreal.

Hilaire's in splendid voice throughout, while lyrically, the material covers familiar ground, with references to Capetown and Jah surfacing along the way. A bar-setting opener, “Hold on Strong” roils with trademark Deadbeat thunder, with the track's thudding bass pulse and slinky hi-hats augmented by echo-drenched chords and crowned by a prototypically dreadwise vocal. Packed as they are with delectable micro-detail, the dense instrumental backings Monteith fashions provide a constant source of pleasure for the ears and make for a rewarding headphones listen. The album's prime cut is arguably “Little Darling,” an infectious swinger stoked by a hyper-charged stepping groove, synth stabs, and a sing-song vocal melody.

But as pleasurable an outing as The Infinity Dub Sessions is, it is lacking one thing that helped mark the Deadbeat albums Monteith issued on ~scape a decade ago, specifically Wild Life Documentaries, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, and New World Observer, as recordings of the highest order: distinctive compositional form characterized by narrative development. On those albums, long-form pieces evolve through multiple episodes and exploit contrasts in dynamics along the way. The new album eschews such an approach, with Monteith essentially providing skanking backdrops of muscular force in support of Hilaire (cases in point are “Dopa” and “Under Cover,” which are more atmospheric, voice-accented jams than formal compositions—dubs in the true sense of the word). In that regard, it sometimes seems as if Monteith's purposefully holding back so as not to overpower the singer—which would be fine if the vocals were more compelling than the backings. But, truth be told, Monteith's instrumental contributions are a source of greater interest and stimulation than Hilaire's singing, and so a more elaborate presentation of the former wouldn't have been unwelcome.

March 2014