Ever since the great Trip-Hop and Post-Rock Scares of the 1990s, there’s been a resurgence of interest in the echoey echoey echoey sounds of dub reggae. Mainstream White people’s interest in reggae faded in the 1980s, and then frat boys killed off any lingering fondness for Bob Marley, so most folks were left thinking that smutty slack dancehall and the ska revival were all that was left. Luckily groups like Tortoise and Massive Attack reminded listeners of the crazy textures and rhythms of this murky sub-genre of what’s usually thought of as a sunny happy-go-lucky music.
These days, there’s a new wave of dub bands paying tribute to past masters like Lee “Scratch” Perry and King Tubby, but unfortunately most of them are just flat-out boring. New York groups like The Dub Trio and Dub Is A Weapon lay down heavy reggae grooves with plenty of trippy effects and crazy emphasis on the bass and drums, but they don’t have any good songs or vocals to lure listeners in, so you’re left with plodding ponderous jams that never go anywhere. Spaceman 3 turned a good phrase with “taking drugs to make music to take drugs to,” but these groups don’t seem to grasp that their audience might not be as stoned as them.
So now is a perfect time for the arrival of a band like Future Pigeon, a nine-piece outfit from Los Angeles (specifically from the dub-appropriate neighborhood of Echo Park). Sharing members with L.A. bands Wiskey Biscuit, Beachwood Sparks, and Radar Bros., these guys have a big leg up over any of the East Coast groups because they know how to write a song. It doesn’t matter how loud and repetitive your bassist is or how much reverb your sound mixer adds, it’s all meaningless window dressing without solid compositions as the foundation. The great ‘70s dub tracks were mostly remixed versions of reggae singles with the vocals dropped out and sound effects added to highlight the rhythms. The guys in Future Pigeon have certainly done their homework, laying down hard grooves and adding in plenty of weirdness, but their rock band backgrounds taught them the value of the song. Sure, The Clash loved to dub out, but it all happened within the context of tracks like “Armagideon Time” or “Bank Robber,” where there was always a vocal hook for Joe Strummer to return to.
With The Echodelic Sounds Of, Future Pigeon have abandoned the country-fried pedal steel guitars of their first album and cranked up the danceability (their weekly Dub Club DJ residency in L.A. must’ve taught them a thing or two about moving a crowd). They’ve boiled it down to a solid rhythm section, all lumbering bass, gunshot snare drums, and endless skanking guitars and organs, with tight and punchy horns floating over the top, all in the service of Jason Mason and Eddie Ruscha’s charming vocals. They’re toasting with the usual boasts of how great their band is and how much they like ganja, but it’s melodic and catchy and it works. Mixmaster Tom Chasteen keeps things off-kilter by adding plenty of cavernous echoes and found-sound samples. Heavy-hitters like Mikey Dread (famous for his work on The Clash’s dub-addled triple-hitter Sandinista!) and Ranking Joe show up to rock the mic, and they mix it up in fine style. Extra points for twisting the Wailers’ “Duppy Conqueror” into “Yuppie Conqueror” and turning in a truly wigged-out version of Horace Andy’s classic “Money Money.”
Dub groups get a bad rap for being excruticiatingly dull, but Future Pigeon bring a lot more to the table, working in elements of Afro-beat, post-punk, and psychedelia into their sticky sound. This is definitely a band to see live, where they rock a space-freak party a la P-Funk, but this album is going to sound good whether you’re dancing, driving, or chilling out. They harken back to the days when Fishbone were making the rounds, making sure people got up and moved rather than stood there and nodded their heads. This album is certainly informed by music of the past, but Future Pigeon aren’t shackled to it, instead blazing their own path into the future.