Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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More even than the ballroom rock of San Francisco, Jamaican dub was conceived as music by potheads for potheads--music to say "oh wow" to. Originating in the bass-only "versions" ganja-toking '70s reggae producers profferred as B sides, this is a deep, spare style that uses vocals primarily for decoration. English punks loved dub. The toasters who chanted on top of it inspired the first rappers. It's near the heart of electronic dance music. But it's not songful. Because it emphasizes bass, it impacts the body directly, yet because its mixes favor expanses of silence, it's also abstract. So it often leaves those of unenhanced consciousness unmoved.

New dub albums and compilations have multiplied since the rise of techno, but almost all have been for specialists. A few recent collections, however, are bigger than their niche. The Great Pablo (Music Club) cherry-picks '70s tracks by the late Augustus Pablo, foregrounding the simple tunes Pablo created on his flutelike toy melodica, which contrast sweetly with the spacy rhythmic environments. Big Youth's three-CD Natty Universal Dread (Blood and Fire) documents the irrepressible wordplay of the style's greatest toaster. Purer stylistically because it's not logocentric is King Tubby's King Dub (Music Club).

But the most compelling introduction to the style is Select Cuts From Blood & Fire (Select Cuts), which does a superb job of reducing the bewildering catalogue of the biggest contemporary dub label to weird r&b instrumentals. Most do feature tunes, often carried by the bass; voices singing catch-phrases fade in and out. These are essential to the nonaficionado. But the fun is in the effects--stereo zooming, levels rushing and ebbing, percussion clattering or shuddering, horns curdling, bells tinkling. It's all enough to make an ex-president inhale.

Playboy, Jan. 2001


Dec. 2000 Feb. 2001