Lifetones : For a Reason

Jeff Terich
Lifetones For a Reason

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By the early 1980s, post-punk and dub were already well acquainted, at least in the UK. The Clash had been infusing elements of reggae and its various offshoot genres into their eclectic punk for the whole of their career, while Mark Stewart—who would later go on to pursue dub toward its most experimental ends—used dub’s effects and rhythmic methods in his own wildly innovative band, The Pop Group. Likewise, This Heat, whose brief but essential discography comprised what sounded like a decade’s worth of ideas in just two albums and one EP, captured the chill and sparseness of dub’s weirdest, most wonderful moments in their own disorienting compositions. When This Heat disbanded, however, guitarist and vocalist Charles Bullen still had more exploring to do.

In 1982, Bullen teamed up with Julius Samuel to form Lifetones, a one-album project that yielded just one six-track album, but an entire world of promise for what could be done in the name of genre fusion. That album, For A Reason, was recorded at This Heat’s Cold Storage studio, and the production techniques yield a similar edge and coldness as that of the then-recently released Deceit. Only it’s a dub album—a really weird, highly unconventional and eclectic dub album. And thanks to Light in the Attic, it’s been rescued from decades of obscurity and obscenely high collectors’ vinyl pricing.

Each of the six tracks on For A Reason veers in a slightly different direction, showcasing the breadth of Bullen and Samuel’s vision without diminishing the overarching aesthetic. The title track kicks off with a taste of synth-flavored reggae that was growing more commonplace in the ’80s, only to head back into a darker, more jagged direction more closely reminiscent of This Heat’s material, not the least important component being Bullen’s own vocals. They’re a reasonably scarce commodity on the album, only appearing in a handful of tracks, but here Bullen’s material is less paranoid and harrowing than the politically charged surrealism of his previous band, even referencing Bob Marley in the line, “You love the life you live, you live the life you love.”

The peak of For A Reason‘s thrilling fusions is on second track “Good Side,” which seems to draw a curious triangle with points at reggae, highlife and post-punk, with a bit of psychedelia rippling through the center. Bullen creates a sort of rhythmic complexity in its interplay of melody, beat and vocals. As Lifetones go deeper into their sonic cavern, they unearth both subtle and more overt nods to West Indian popular music on “Decide” and “Travelling,” while reveling in atmospheric darkness on the standout closer “Patience.”

Though there are parallels between This Heat and Lifetones, the distinction between the two bands is stark. Lifetones is, much as the name implies, more warm and inviting than This Heat, though as a result it’s far less radical, and less immediately dazzling. That’s not to say that For A Reason isn’t its own excellent piece of music, just one whose impact is perhaps a bit less intense. Its execution, however, is hard not to love, the mellifluous fusion of a punk experimentalist and a dub producer finding joy in the limitlessness of sound.

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