Athens, Georgia’s Dubconscious strive to find balance on their fourth release, NonViolent (CD – MP3). Merging their affinity for reggae and dub music with an expansive instrumental outlook, the band blends mind-expanding musical journeys with firmly rooted sociopolitical views to conjure their sound. The music is well-executed, but their message is a bit muddled by lackluster vocals.
The band’s true strength is found in the construction and execution of the music itself. When it comes to creating bass-heavy, traditional reggae and dub music, they are more than capable, layering typical reggae guitar work over pulsating, dance-ready rhythms and sprucing them up with layers of echoing sound. They’re at their best on unusual tracks like “Future Eyes,” which quickens the pulse of regular reggae with energetic percussion and atmospheric instrumental flourishes.
Horns hollow out a special place in Dubconscious’ music, and NonViolent features this aspect of their sound more prominently than ever. Ska-tinged brass melodies help push the band’s bedrock of bass and beats into varying territories. The mostly instrumental title track is tinged by the horns’ jazzy interplay and conversational soloing, much like the rest of the album.
As weighty and thoughtful as the band endeavors to be, it’s clear that their music is best-suited for the lighter times in your life. While their moniker and album titles bring more serious pursuits to mind, Dubconscious rarely approach the pinnacles of reggae and dub’s truly rebellious history. The closest they get here is the pumping “Unify,” but even that tune is burdened by the album’s biggest flaw – vocal presentation.
They lack an arresting vocal presence to transform their vaguely interesting lyrics into spirited, fiery proclamations. This makes most of their lyrics sound halfhearted, and the listener will be able to draw a tangible line between the good and not-so-good moments of songs based on the presence of vocals. Tunes like “Words of Tomorrow” start with promise but are ultimately undermined by vocals that lack dynamics and passion. Equally unremarkable are the band’s many attempts at adding female vocals into the mix.
“Pray” is one of the more straightforward lyrical tracks on the album, never moving beyond a simple one-line proclamation spiced with wordy samples – but even that simple message is watered down by uninspired singing. “Sustainably” tries to impart a message of environmentalism, but the song’s jovial, classic reggae rhythm can’t mask lyrical proclamations that are less than galvanizing, making it another enjoyable but hardly stirring tune.
“Much Respect” would work just fine with no vocals, but instead the song is shoehorned into a format that chokes its throbbing rhythms with inconsequential, dull lyrics. “The Possibility” is appropriately named, as it shows the limitless potential of their instrumental creations. But it also displays how adding vocals for the sake of vocals can make a blunder of even the best beats.
NonViolent strives to move Dubconscious beyond their existence as a fun festival act and solid nightclub draw. The music is there and the band is incredibly good at what they do, but it’s hard to imagine them being taken seriously by a worldwide audience as long as the vocals retain their unremarkable, droning quality. This one’s not going to change to world or the band’s place in it.
Rating: 4.5 out of 10.