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Sunday, 25 November 2012

Zion Train - Homegrown Fantasy (1995)

Well, well, well – this is a blast from the past. I was introduced to Zion Train when I was about 13 years old by a friend of my parents. I looked up to this guy in more ways than one: he was passionate about music and he was closer to seven-foot in height than six. He introduced me to groups like the Zodiac Mindwarp, and he taught me to be suspicious of what he saw as ‘commercial music’ – essentially anything pop or mainstream. I’ve come to realise since that all types of music have their value, and however obscure and leftfield an artist may be, they are essentially just another consumer choice in a crowded marketplace.

The suspicion towards commercial music served me well during my formative years, and led me to avoid pop at all costs, and instead spent time investigating music based on its quality rather than its position in the charts. The musical charts are still alien to me as a concept, in that I probably couldn’t name one artist who has had a number one single within the past decade (though I could probably make an informed guess at artists that did, it would be just that - a guess). Today, I don’t mind some pop, I don’t actively avoid it in the way that I did as a teenager – there’s some good in all musical genres, no matter how commercial or superficial (the only exception to this rule as far as I can gather is music that falls in the bracket of Bonkers Hardcore, but then maybe I haven’t given it enough chance to make a fair judgement).

Zion Train started life as a sound system in Oxford, but produced a series of dub records with sounds that seem to take their inspiration from 1970s minimalist acts like Steven Reich, as well as sounds taken from rave culture. Many of their albums promote the virtues of smoking marijuana and an appreciation of the natural world. I remember reading the inlay to Natural Wonders of the World in Dub which had a long passage talking about the beauty of Llanberis Pass in Snowdonia, Wales.

Homegrown Fantasy opens with ‘Dance of Life’, a track that pulls in influences from dub, reggae, techno, and Arabic vocals. The bass is colossal and the beats could have been lifted from something the Prodigy might have produced in the early-90s. ‘Free the Bass’ keeps the deep bass going, but adds in an excellent horn section that could easily have been found on an early-ska track. The dance beats continue in ‘The Healing of a Nation’ which brings in more of a ragga vibe as a female vocalist utters the words “sensimilla” over the deep Jamaican vocals that talk about “smoking da ‘erb”.

‘Universal Communication’ sounds like something that Manu Chao would perform live: a fast-paced reggae stomper with a catchy horn section and blasts of sirens and a dirty deep bass sound. But unlike something Manu Chao would do, this song just doesn’t go anywhere. ‘Venceremos’ continues the dub bass combined with dance music theme. Again, we hear blasts of siren and reggae dance beats – it’s all starting to get very formulaic.

‘Get Ready’ is a traditional down-beat dub track, and is actually very good. With booming bass, bursts of harmonium that echo across the mix, and positive female vocals that can’t help but make you feel all good inside. ‘For the Revolution’ continues the slowed-down dub feeling with an instrumental that features a harmonium and trumpet calling back to each other as strange wet sounds spiral and echo behind them. ‘Love the Earth’ is sparse and atmospheric, with fractured instrumentation barely being held together by slow rim shots and reverb soaked keyboard sounds. Album-closer ‘One Conscience’ brings the intensity up with a dub constructed around layered noises that at points are reminiscent of an F1 car hurtling past.

This isn’t a bad album all things considered. It is incredibly samey and at points sounds badly dated. I can imagine that in the context of a late night session, this album might work. But I just can’t see this album being one I’ll revisit any time soon so I think this is one for the charity shop.

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zion train homegrown


Anonymous said...

you've got some pretty obscure stuff in your collection. great blog

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