Deadbeat: Wild Life Documentaries

Montreal's Scott Monteith brings Stefan Betke's ~scape label back to its dubby roots with Wild Life Documentaries, a turn that might surprise those enjoying the hip-hop-flavoured Staeditizism: Instrumentals but will be less of a surprise to those familiar with System, another recent ~scape release. Openly acknowledging his affection for dub legends like King Tubby and Augustus Pablo, Monteith creates billowing ambient washes that infest tracks laden with almost aquatically deep treatments of echo and reverb. Of course Burnt Friedman is the other ~scape artist who has most intensively explored dub in this electronic milieu, yet his Just Landed is markedly different from the Deadbeat release. Friedman's tracks are shorter and more concise, the melodies on Just Landed more distinctive and memorable. Monteith's dub rhythms emerge out of swaths of suspended ambience; the overall effect is more languid with a greater emphasis on extended grooves heavy on texture.

The ten tracks form an extended suite of sorts with no breaks between them, although there are discernible changes in character from one to the next. “Open My Eyes That I May See” establishes the mood with a swamp-like brew filled with stuttering, echoing chords. It segues into “Organ in the Attic Sings the Blues” with its calliope organ underpinned by all manner of crackling and surface noise and its echo-laden drum pattern. “For Palestine” builds slowly, its martial drum beat rising to the forefront amidst the recurring waves of ambient washes. “For Israel” features a prototypical bass line accompanied by propulsive drum thwacks and clavinet-like touches. In general, tracks like “Let It Rain” and “Cause For Hope” are comprised of abundant textural detail like swirling, cloud-like ambience and rain sounds, out of which surface dub bass lines, beats, and keyboard accents. “To Berlin With Love” incorporates what sounds like sampled voices as a backdrop to an insistently repeating bass figure which then drops out, evidencing an effectively restrained handling of space. “A Dub for Akufen” pays homage to fellow Montrealer Marc Leclair, yet the track refrains from mimicking the latter's distinctive style. “Kezia” ends the recording on a calm and elegant note, with gentle chords echoing amidst a mass of percussive detail and static.

Indisputably, the recording is meticulously crafted and exudes an exquisite attention to detail. Yet it's ultimately less than fully satisfying for a couple of reasons. Its dearth of memorable melody is one weakness, and the other is its derivativeness. Vladislav Delay, for instance, incorporates dub effects into Entain and Multila, but does so in the service of a personalized music that is unique and fresh. Pole's seminal releases exemplify a heavy dub influence too, yet the music is distinctly Betke's, personalized by its signature crackles and its omission of standardized drums. Wild Life Documentaries sounds, by contrast, too lacking in a unique signature since, by constructing an homage of sorts to the dub genre, Monteith imposes too little of his own stamp upon it. When one considers, for example, the marvelous textural quality of Jan Jelinek's music which immediately identifies it as his alone, this lack in Monteith's recording becomes even more apparent.

January 2003