GIVEN THE ARTY convolutions that dub has endured in the hands of subcultural tricksters of the indie world, it's easy to forget that the B-sides King Tubby and Lee Perry first remixed and reimagined were designed to keep Jamaican Sound System parties going through the night. In a way, the Eternals recapture the spirit of those all-night dances, but their party happens right around the end of the world, and they crank the echo and paralyze the pace for the purpose of soundtracking a haunting end-time bash.
Vocalist Damon Locks and bassist Wayne Montana are holdovers from the seminal D.C. art-punk band Trenchmouth. Accompanied here by drummer Dan Fliegel (formerly of Tom Zé's backing band), however, guitars are nowhere to be heard. Melodies are instead guided by melodicas, keyboards, some sublime bass (check out the haunting "Eternally Yours"), and Locks's pliant vocals.
Locks's voice hovers high in the mix, employing flexible jazzlike phrasing to deliver lyrics that warrant the spotlight. The downright apocalyptic "Feverous Times" resigns itself to a bleak future: "It's like the final call shakes my window sill/I've grown accustomed to the taste." But "Billions of People" takes a more engaged stance, almost like a contemporary "What's Goin' On." "I love the city," sings Locks, "the people should know/But I hate the city that suppresses the soul." When his gorgeous falsetto lifts the chorus, backed by fractured bass and drum machine, Locks adds a chapter to a long-dormant history--the political soul anthem.
While the Eternals may end the record on a slightly affirmative note, with Locks cooing, "You lied when you said it was the end of the world/I woke with the sun and a sense of relief," bleakness and doom pervade. Well, no one said it had to be a fun party. The apocalypse has been imagined as a computer glitch by Radiohead, or as an orchestra crashing by Godspeed You Black Emperor! The Eternals envision it as a doomed block party, which doesn't seem to be such a bad way to go.