New York label Daptone has an unimpeachable pedigree at producing music steeped in a certain vintage, but that vintage tends to be soul; news that the label has turned its hand to reggae, then, it certainly enough to prick the attention of anyone with a love for classic Jamaican music.
The Frightnrs certainly sound classic. This, their debut album, finds the Brooklyn group operating with impeccable taste, and faultless execution: the dreamy harmonies and tougher-than-tough rhythms could easily fall from The Techniques, The Tenors, The Paragons, or countless other pioneers of rocksteady and classic reggae.
Production comes courtesy of Victor Axelrod, and this definitely adds a new dimension. While many modern reggae albums aim for effect, Axelrod seems – in true Daptone style – to be concerned with the song itself, and what few aural additions there are appear to be in line with augmenting the music.
Opener ‘All My Tears’ offers a heartbroken skank, while ‘Gotta Find A Way’ neatly sluices Chicago soul with Studio One – indeed, it’s worth remembering that when Curtis Mayfield’s group The Impressions visited Jamaica in 1967 they were greeted like The Beatles at JFK only a few years before.
‘Purple’ seem to dwell in cavernous space, with ‘Hey Brother (Do Unto Others)’ neatly pinpointing Jamaica’s gospel tradition. ‘Trouble In Here’ meanwhile, is the other side of the coin: a piece of boss reggae that could get boots stomping across the globe.
Tragically, the album comes with a sting in its tail: shortly before it was released, vocalist Dan Klein died of ALS. While it would be wrong to read this condition into the material itself – the vast majority was seemingly written before the diagnosis occurred – it certainly adds to the record’s intense energy.
Throughout ‘Nothing More To Say’ there is this relentless, almost indescribable atmosphere, one that goes beyond simple melancholy. The Frightnrs attack the project with incredible zeal, resulting in some otherworldly sounds, something that comes to the fore most notably on ‘Dispute’. The minor key melody, the sharp-as-nails percussive attack on the guitar, and that loping, staggered bass line underpin a truly incredible vocal from Dan Klein – it’s eerily, savagely beautiful, and quite unforgettable.
Much more than a simple retro work, The Frightners’ debut album deserves to be heard far beyond the reggae community and Daptone fanatics. A work of quite singular intensity, it leaves a lasting impact. An album of devoted musicality, it seems only right to end with a particularly poignant lyric from ‘Gonna Make Time’: “There are only so many hours, and only so many days…”
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