Deadbeat: New World Observer

While Scott Monteith's last Deadbeat album Something Borrowed, Something Blue celebrated the Montreal native's recent marriage, the oft portentous mood of his third ~scape outing New World Observer suggests there's trouble in paradise—not of the marital kind, mind you, but in the world beyond, with the new album casting an eye upon global turmoil. The broadened perspective is indicated not only by song titles (“Abu Ghraib”) but by the dancehall, vocal elements, and Middle Eastern flavourings that have seeped into the cavernous digi-dub sound. The political dimension is both subtly integrated on a musical level and overtly referenced by the sampled voices of a North American right-wing radio personality in “Abu Ghraib” (though distorted so severely it's almost unintelligible) and a Palestinian woman in “Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Something Borrowed, Something Blue's opening tracks eased the listener into the recording; the slam that starts “Slow Rot from Rhetoric” initiates New World Observer auspiciously, as if signifying the troubling journey to come. Admittedly, that intensity dissipates when the track collapses into momentary haze, though it soon transforms into a tantalizing dirge dragged forth by a crawling bass line and supple percussive textures. “ Port-au-prince ” features a tasty dancehall groove peppered by Arabian guitar flutter and the dreamy musings of Montreal-based chanteuse Athésia with the piece turning hypnotic when chopped voice snippets alternate with a guitar's haunting pluck. Admittedly some material strays little from the style already perfected by Monteith (“Time is Passing Slowly,” “Rock of Ages”) but he expands upon it enough to make the album seem a progression. Echoing Something Borrowed, Something Blue, atmospheric waves of cricket chirps and dense showers of crackle in “Habitat for Heavy Hearts” end the album peacefully.

With the material soaked in textures, smears, and echo, Deadbeat's sound is distinguished by an immense three-dimensionality. Monteith also demonstrates immense care in how material is shaped. In place of densely layered run-on grooves, the compositions move through stages, with a pause often appearing in a song's middle before it resumes with greater force. After waves of percussive clatter segue into a rollicking, almost tribal rhythm in “Texas Tea,” for example, the pulse drops out, leaving unmoored detail to float alone until the groove reappears, now even more inflamed. On New World Observer, Monteith presents an undulating and oceanic sound that's equal parts techno, dancehall, and electronic dub, a style that satisfies for the textured depth of its sound and compositional sophistication.

May 2005