The Pop Group : Y in Dub

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a certain ratio 1982 review

The Pop Group’s Y isn’t a dub album, but as post-punk records go, it’s about as close as you can get. Produced by Dennis “Blackbeard” Bovell, a dub veteran who also worked with The Slits and Orange Juice, Y fused the iconoclastic sound of British post-punk in the late ’70s with the studio-as-instrument approach revolutionized in Jamaica earlier that same decade. It’s a crucial element of songs such as “Thief of Fire” and “We Are Time,” wherein the arrangement is often stripped back to its riddim, and Mark Stewart’s echoing vocals fade in and out of frame like a panicked passerby. It doesn’t sound like any record made at the time or since, a marvel of engineering, chemistry and inspired volatility.

More than 40 years later, it receives a proper album-length dub version courtesy of the original producer behind the Bristol band’s incendiary debut. The project began in 2019 as The Pop Group celebrated the 40th anniversary of their debut album through a series of events called “Salon Y,” which saw Bovell deconstructing tracks from the album in a live setting. The idea was good enough to extend it to an album length dub, which finds the Barbados-born reggae legend reshaping the album through copious amounts of effects, heavier bass treatment and an even more judicious use of space.

The feedback squeal that opens “Thief of Fire” denotes a certain tone of familiarity—that frequency is probably ingrained into the memory of a generation or two or three, but things turn considerably more strange and psychedelic without much delay. Unaccompanied bass tones, echoing guitar scratch, Stewart’s repetitions of “Aieeeeee!”—it’s not a dub reggae version in the traditional sense, but it’s also not the post-punk funk anthem as most of us remember it.

It only gets more interesting from that point on, whether through the more conventional appearance of an offbeat reggae pulse in “Blood Money,” the deepening vortex of layers in “We Are Time” the cascading avalanche of drums in “She is Beyond Good and Evil” or the plunge into reverberating caverns of sound on “3.38.” It’s fascinating to hear how Bovell reinterprets these songs that bear his original production, revisiting them 40 years later only to pull them apart and put them back together again in asymmetrical mutant fashion. What these newly abstracted versions emphasize most of all is just how idiosyncratic the album is in the first place, pushing the heaviest and most intense elements to the front of the mix and replicating them until they become nearly overwhelming. That it took four decades to happen might on one hand feel like a nearly missed opportunity, but there’s also no date stamp or expiration for either an album this bold or a similarly bold reimagining.

Label: Mute

Year: 2021

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