- In an RA Exchange last year, DJ Rupture spoke about the genius of Jamaican dancehall. "It's populist music," he said. "But it's populist music that loves novelty, which drives all sorts of wacky studio experimentation and vocal experimentation—silliness, brilliance, and it's all bound up together." That's exactly how I'd describe Equiknoxx, the duo of Jamaican producers whose second album, Colón Man, just landed on Demdike Stare's label, DDS. On the new LP, they reemerge with an unmistakable sound that, on the surface, only loosely resembles dancehall. But it exemplifies the ethos that DJ Rupture was talking about, balancing good-natured populism with a genuine desire to do something that's never been done before.
The first Equiknoxx album, released in 2016, introduced Gavin "Gavsborg" Blair and Jordan "Time Cow" Chung to a new, experimental-leaning international audience. They were already a few years deep into a fruitful career as dancehall producers before Bird Sound Power came out. (They've previously worked with Busy Signal and Beenie Man.) Where that record was basically a best-of collection of instrumentals spanning the late 2000s to 2015, Colón Man is their first "proper album" of tracks specifically written for the format. You can tell, too, by the way these tracks cohere to a darker, more psychedelic style than anything we've heard before, creating an otherworldly mood that doesn't let up.
As sinister as the album is at times, it's almost always delivered with a dash of humor. "Flank" is full of spooky samples: bells tolling, UFO sound effects, devilish tri-tone harmonies and a loop of ghoulish voices singing "lose your soul" like they're conjuring a hex. Blair and Chung shade in many of their tracks with a quiet cacophony of pops, clicks and whimpers—far-off noises that evoke the teeming hum of the jungle. On the wonderfully deranged "Ceremonial Eating Dog," the four-legged animal that comes to mind is the Cheshire Cat, which might watch things unfold with its toothy, disembodied grin, chuckling at you in the dark.
The album is full of striking production flourishes delivered with casual elegance, like they're nothing at all. Listen closely and you'll hear microscopic details that might not have jumped out on your first or second listen. There's a quiet melodica solo that runs throughout the aptly named "Melodica Badness," which is so unexpected within the electronic palette that it actually made me laugh. The whole album is beautifully produced, which gives it the physical power to back up the more cerebral stuff. From the first few notes of the opening track, you can tell these guys are studio wizards just from the way the kick drum thumps without crowding out the sub-bass.
Colón Man oozes personality. It's studied but not self-serious, with a great sense of humor and a total disregard for the rules. It plays disorienting games with the listener, tossing out familiar reference points before pulling them out from under you. It paints a portrait of who Blair and Chung might be as people: mischievous tricksters who get a kick out of fake-outs, pranks and head-spinning surprises. It all comes down to their razor-sharp wit and gleeful irreverence, and if that it doesn't bring a smile to your face then maybe the joke's on you.
01. Kareece Put Some Thread In A Zip Lock
02. Heathen Emissaries From The Dens Of Babylon
03. Plantain Porridge
05. Your Ears Are Not Very Small
06. Melodica Badness feat. Addis Pablo
07. Ceremonial Eating Dog
08. Sent For Ducklings, Got Ducks
09. Enter A Raffle... Win A Falafel
10. A World Of Welsh
11. Definitely Not Something Offensive
12. Waterfalls In Ocho Rios
13. We Miss You Little Joe