various artists: Marmalade and various artists: Grime

various artists
Greensleeves Rhythm Album #50: Marmalade
Greensleeves

various artists
Grime
Rephlex

The version is the lingua franca of all dance music. To "version," in Jamaican parlance, is to reuse the same basic backing track with a new vocal and/or song on top. And with dancehall's recent American surge, even "rhythm albums" like Greensleeves--discs devoted entirely to variations on an oft-narrow theme that would seem on the surface like exercises in pure monotony--are starting to catch on. Created by Donovan "Vendetta" Bennett and Kingston radio DJ Wayne, the "Marmalade" rhythm is less generic in the sense that it's interchangeable than that it sums up its genre. Over tablas, handclaps, stick percussion, and a bass part that slams on three beats and then pauses for breath, a nodding organ alternating with a pinched little keyboard on the vaguely Middle Eastern preset plays the same couple of notes.

The rhythm coils and springs constantly, and its internal tension is down-and-dirty enough to bring out the unblinkingly randy side of nearly every participant, particularly Lady Saw, whose "Mr. Long John" is self-explanatory ("Don't make me beg, please"), and Tanya Stephens, whose "Pop It Off" is not about pull tabs. Thing is, the Marmalade beat is so elastic and brings out such elasticity in the people riding it that it actually holds your attention for an hour. The exception, oddly enough, is current Kingston top dog Vybz Kartel, who apparently liked it so much he reworked it twice; both "Tattoo" and "Cut Yuh Speed" are good, but they'd sound extremely similar even if their backing tracks were different.

In London, meantime, grime--an MC-driven subset of two-step garage--has been taking root, but for Rephlex to call their three-producer, no-vocals compilation Grime is a little like if Def Jam had put out an album of instrumental B-sides and called it Rap. Someone is meant to rhyme over these tracks, but they succeed just fine on their own. It's a bit difficult telling the three participants apart at first, but MarkOne's got the coolest PlayStation effects, Plasticman (not the Richie Hawtin pseudonym) is fondest of warp-and-weft sub-bass, and Slaughter Mob messes around with his beats more frequently. In short, despite the pedigree of the scene whence it sprang, Grime is an old-fashioned techno record, a variation on an old theme that keeps turning up new tricks.

 
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