Tuesday, February 4, 2014

'A Blastback': A review of "Set The Standard" by Mr. Williamz

Dynamite. Frustratingly, there exists no formula that I know of, which is capable of predicting something as rare and unusual as musical styles. You can listen to a particular artist and listen to them describe his/her influences and how and where they grew up and when you actually take in what it is that they do - it sounds absolutely nothing like you'd imagine give their specific background. Other times, it's spot-on and what they bring is precisely what you'd expect and, again, it has no predictor at all. Reggae music is a prime example of this as you can be fully shocked by who you're likely to musically encounter making music in the genre and to the degree that it has become not only their livelihood, but a large portion of their entire life as well. That'll stand up as accurate for the literally countless record labels you'll run into from everywhere making different styles of Reggae music and, eventually, it leads you to the vocalists and a never-ending and uncountable amount of diverse styles. From a delightful and diminutive young German woman who looks like a university student but sings Reggae music like an angel to a musical descendant of the legendary Bounty Killer who just… deconstructs and constructs the spoken word at a pace which has never been heard before, we definitely get to experience a wide array of very impressive styles which remain somewhat odd, but have fully incorporated themselves, in one way or another, into the landscape of the music. Also, we can sit and look forward to how possibly might artists of tomorrow who are inspired by the likes of a Sara Lugo or an Aidonia, bring that sound into their own work. And today we take a look at someone else who has managed to quite a bit of blending on his own and come up with a style which is so familiar and so 'comfortable', that it has actually made him one of a kind. Mr. Williamz has an approach which isn't anything that we haven't heard before. As a matter of fact, we've heard it often and can hear it whenever we want. The issue with him, however, is that what he does is somewhat of a 'lost art'. The DJ who grew between the UK and Jamaica has a method which is full on old school Dancehall music -- not updated or with a modern texture -- it is of a time long gone, but apparently someone forgot to tell Mr. Williamz that and now, thankfully, it's just too damn late. 

Originally it wasn't a connection that I actually made because of who Mr. Williamz spent his time with, musically. From the first time I heard him he was always associated with the venerable Curtis Lynch Jr. and company at Necessary Mayhem from out of the UK. While they do quite a bit of different things, NM is one of those labels (much like Germaica who we dealt with not too long ago) (big album, "Still Disturbed" by Ward 21, in stores now) who focuses on making authentic and old school centric Dancehall music which melded perfectly with Mr. Williamz who, regardless of who he's working with, brings forth this very fresh presentation from a quarter of a century ago or so. Mr. Williamz is a throwback and he isn't a "throwback" in the tired and just awful way that term is usually applied - but if there were a person who made Dancehall music and were named 'Throwback' - he'd be Mr. Williamz. So, as you might imagine (and as you should know) Williamz and Lynch have made for a devastating pair over the past few years.
Now, after countless singles and more than one EP release , Mr. Williamz takes the obvious next step and deliver, along with Necessary Mayhem, his looooooooooong awaited debut album, "Set The Standard". I have probably been waiting on this album for the better part of half a decade or so. In terms of the outward reaching sense, Williamz rose to prominence at a similar time as another outstanding UK product, Gappy Ranks, who now has three full albums to his credit and while Mr. Williamz definitely didn't take a break (or at least one that I knew of), it just seemed as if the eventual album was always a matter of 'coming soon' (more on that later). But we have been patiently awaiting the set and the wait is over. Necessary Mayhem, as well, have been doing big things consistently and they've remained quite active and more popular these days than they were a few years back. And though the label has worked alongside some of the biggest names in Reggae music today, such as Etana, Busy Signal, Ziggi Recado, Tarrus Riley as well as legends like Gregory Isaacs, Shabba Ranks and Maxi Priest, I think it says a great deal when you consider that, at least to my knowledge, outside of a remix project featuring the late Isaacs, "Set The Standard", sets the standard for full album releases for Necessary Mayhem. Mr. Williamz' very first tune was with the label (and is on this album) and though he has developed his prodigious talents with a variety of different producers, it seemed to always be with Lynch that he reached his full potential. Also, as we've been discussing recently, there has been a tremendous dearth of high level and high quality Dancehall albums over the last few years and, Williamz joins an increasingly impressive lot which also includes Sean Paul, Wayne Marshall and the aforementioned Ward 21 as big names from the Dancehall who strike with albums in early 2014 [THANK YOU!] (and I think that it says so much when the number of big named Dancehall stars with albums in a given year is doubled and tripled, EASILY, by Soca artists with albums of a similar level, which has been the case in recent years). For his part, we fully know what to expect from Mr. Williamz - a fireball of an old school Dancehall album. Let's take a closer look. 

If you haven't listened to much of Necessary Mayhem's output over the years (shame on you!), what they do often is to remake classic old tracks and present them to current artists so, this album should be full of very familiar sounds to more frequent listeners of the genre and that is something, as I said, which blends perfectly with this particular artist. "Set The Standard" begins with its title track, which I was familiar with and is a very nice and BRIGHT tune which does well set the standard for what is to follow. Mr. Williamz has this very easy going type of style somewhat reminiscent of the great Super Cat and for fans who come from that era, and even some who come after, this tune which makes its foundation on being ORIGINAL, is golden as Williamz keeps the listener paying a big attention with his blistering lyrical display. 

"And nuff will seh dem real -
Dem a real cartoon
Yuh listen to dem song, dem sound like a baboon
It sound like dem record it in a bathroom
Unuh watch it now wi send dem back to di class-" 

'Middle East' is a very fun track which I just recently heard for the first time prior to this album. As its title suggests, the tune has a kind of Arabian spin on the riddim and it also has a bit of a bite to it as well. I won't ruin its ultimate direction for you, but it is a very fun song and one of the most sonically pleasing on the whole of the album. There's also 'Touch Down', near the head of "Set The Standard" which isn't my favourite tune on the album, but I have to admit that it picks up steam as it progresses so give it a few spins before passing a final judgment and the premise of the song is also very, very clever. 

If you've followed the work of Mr. Williamz, you're going to see more than a few selections here which you already know and know very well. That is surely the case with two of the bigger ones in 'Babylon In Helicopter' and 'No Cigarette'. The former is actually Williamz' first tune and was featured on Necessary Mayhem's cut of the Police In Helicopter Riddim and was a very big hit for the artist, while the latter is an even stronger tune in my opinion across the Joker Smoker Riddim. These two efforts have gone on to become signature tracks for Mr. Williamz and I don't know that he could have had a first album sans them - regardless who produced it. Still, to my opinion, reigning supreme in the whole of his catalog and on this album (DUH!) is the MAMMOTH 'Real General' from a few years back. I don't tink that it was ultimately as popular as the two previously mentioned songs, but for me it was quintessential Mr. Williamz and if I had to recommend just a one song to anyone wanting to listen to his music, it would easily be 'Real General'

'Mi just seh 'easy Mr. Will, Jah know seh yuh skilled
Yuh style and yuh pattern value more than a mil
More than a trill, more than a triple zill
A ganja mi smoke and mi nah tek no pill

An extremely fun and brilliantly chaotic set which has no equal on this album. And I don't know it for sure, but it comes through as the type of song which had a spontaneous birth and it didn't require too much planning and was very organic (and you can probably say that about most of Williamz' music, actually). In either case, it worked! You may also recognize 'Tommy Ranks' which was the title track of one of the several pre-album EP's that Necessary Mayhem did with Mr. Williamz (and a big credit to whoever sings the background and chorus on that tune because she did a great job). There's the solid 'Ganja Man, Ganja Woman' which features Williamz alongside Killa Mosquito which is a tune which took awhile to grow on me -- that riddim on this song is HYPNOTIC and I probably listened to it a few times before I even began to hear the vocals. 'Shell Down' was another familiar one, this piece alongside Specialist Moss. Again, it is another very easy and free-flowing track and one of the biggest highlights here for me. And also check 'London', which I'm pretty sure is a song that I know, but I couldn't tell you from where I know it (AT ALL), as well as the album's closer, 'It Haffi Bun' with Benny Page. Both are two of a the more colourful selections on "Set The Standard" and because of that, there collective presence was welcomed. 
"Tommy Ranks" EP [2011]
New to my ears, on the other hand, was a quartet of songs which I was really looking forward to hearing. The first of them is the heavy 'Miss Brown', which I think is an older composition that I just did not hear. It is a very clever lyrical display from Mr. Williamz and just a really exciting tune. And speaking of clever lyrical displays, 'Shout It Out' is GORGEOUS and was another which I'd never heard. From that particular aspect, 'Shout It Out' is the best song on the album. It is just a flood of lyrics as Mr. Williamz goes Papa San all over "Set The Standard". 'Run The World' is also very impressive on that level, as Williamz gives a proper credit to the art form he performs. 

"Cause even before the moment yuh birth -
Yuh heartbeat ah pump, that's how yah life work
It come in like a drums at the Reggae concert
Yuh stand up gainst the speaker, you fill it ah jerk
And that is when you know what life is worth
Who caan tek it haffi get up and splurt
Serious thing, I waan yuh listen to my words:
Dem ah fight gainst the music, but that nah go work"

BOOM! Probably my second favourite song on this album, 'Run The World' is a giant song. And lastly is 'Ganja Palace'. When I first heard this song, its intro period full on scared me - I was nervous! But it develops nicely as Williamz tells all just how hugely important the herb is in his life ["Sight mi wid a spliff, you know it bigger than a chisel. Wi no fear siren, nor policeman whistle. Real ganja dada from di day when wi christen"].
Mr. Williamz
Overall, the only real critique I have of this album is how it was compiled. As I said, we've well been waiting on this one for awhile and it had gotten to the point where I didn't know if it was taking so long because they were making entirely or primarily new songs - but when I saw the tracklist, I was surprised that it took so long with so much material that was previously known (and you may even know more of the songs than I do). However, I now look at it as a kind of a 'catch up' to what Mr. Williamz and Necessary Mayhem have been working on up until this point and, in that respect (or in any other actually), "Set The Standard" is very good. It even really gave me more of an appreciation of his work and his style. Williamz is patient. He never really seems to hurry about his work and, as I alluded to, it channels through in this very easy and laidback type of sound which even further displays this kind of old school approach. And speaking of things of old, I have to mention this album's cover which is straight out of the 1980's and was a brilliant touch by whoever decided on it. From beginning to end "Set The Standard" is an excellent and very FUN look at the music of someone in Mr. Williamz who, seemingly without even trying too hard, continues to set himself apart from the rest.

Rated: 4/5
Necessary Mayhem Records

Review #490

1 comment:

  1. Oh man I can't wait to hear this one and the next album he puts out after this one too. Anyone who can still do the 80's style is my idol. Captain Sinbad's album last year was the coolest.