Deadbeat: Journeyman's Annual

In his liner notes on the fourth Deadbeat full-length Journeyman's Annual, Montreal resident Scott Monteith makes reference to his “musically-challenged racket,” but the more accurate term would be “compositionally-challenged.” Though the titles of his third (New World Observer) and latest release might suggest a conceptual link, the musical connection is minimal. The new release is considerably more club-oriented than its predecessors, and though there's certainly nothing objectionable about that, the album is considerably less distinguished on compositional grounds. While the preceding Deadbeat albums assembled ambitious, episodic settings into multi-directional wholes, the new one emphasizes tracks that are more danceable and robust but also less explorative in the routes navigated. Since the third album's 2005 release, Monteith has spent much of his time on the road (signified by song titles that cite Melbourne and Paris, and that implicitly champion a borderless musical internationalism) so the album's club focus isn't all that surprising.

Though Monteith's obviously cognizant of dubstep's ascent, the album's rhythms are less dubstep than dancehall. Compared to dubstep's slow skank and dark portent, Journeyman's Annual cuts like “Night Train to Paris” and “Turbulence” are effervescent, insistent, and uptempo. The album does boast some unqualified high points: Bristol-based MC Bubbz muses upon frustration in “Refund Me” but the tune's strongest assets are its thudding electro-dancehall rhythm and raucous stuttering breaks. Moral Undulations spreads his gravelly verses across the relentlessly ticking club banger “Deep in the Country” to good if less momentous effect. “Lost Luggage” nicely eases the listener in, with Sophie Trudeau's violin howl stretching across the sky in the background, and then jerks to attention with a dub strut at the three-minute mark, while a classic dub organ line and monotone bass throb lead the lurching charge on “Melbourne Round Midnight.”

On the downside, Monteith follows the infectious dancehall outing “Gimme a Little Slack” (starring Montreal deejay Jah Cutta) with the wholly unnecessary instrumental version “Gimme a Little Dub,” and shores up the disc's running time further with a remix of Saul Williams' “Black Stacey”; though the latter's potent enough (and, admittedly, included as a ‘bonus' track), the album would have been strengthened by the addition of two strong Deadbeat originals rather than the dub take and Williams cut. Having said that, the album's material may not wend as adventurously as it does on the preceding Deadbeat albums but it remains remarkably rich in detail. “Where Has My Love Gone,” for example, may largely spin in place but does so royally, abetted by a marauding bass swarm and Monteith's deft handling of its many layers and textures. All things considered, though, Journeyman's Annual doesn't impress as much as past Deadbeat outings, even if it is the most club-ready to date.

September 2007