Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this evening’s Independent Spotlight, we take a peek at Tomorrow People, one of the more popular groups we’ve touched on here on the website. Hailing from the center of New Zealand, the outfit describes their music as “sunshine reggae.” The seven-piece band “consists of musicians from all ethnicities who found common ground in their love for reggae music.” Their latest studio endeavor is ‘Bass & Bassinets,’ an extensive collection chock-full of infectiously lively reggae. Let’s dig right into it.
Now, I’d like to talk about about my equal love and apprehension when reviewing reggae content. Reggae is one of my absolute favorite genres. When it is at its best, it’s heartwarmingly good, well performed, and often has a poignant message. Reggae was, after all, born out of the desire to have a message against a rather oppressive government in Jamaica. One could even argue that albums like ‘The Harder They Come’ are akin to Bob Dylan’s ‘Times They Are A Changin.’ Anyway, my point is that reggae is a genre close to my heart because when its well done, it can provide some of the most rewarding experiences in all of music.
Reggae is a double-edged sword in that sense. At its worst, reggae is predictable, monotonous, and tarries too long within easy-breezy, lighthearted vibes. You want to have some sort of message to your music at some point, otherwise you’re just writing the same thing over and over. Plus, you don’t want all your music to sound too instrumentally similar. Thus, when delving into ‘Bass & Bassinets,’ I had to be conscious of both these things. Does the band do a good job of manifesting their reggae into something redeemable, or do they fall victim to the pitfalls and tropes of some iterations of the genre?
To find that out, I spent about two hours with ‘Bass & Bassinets,’ enough time to spin it twice through and pay my whole attention to that experience. Right off the bat, I’d recommend consuming this record in a similar fashion. Listen to it like an album because it strings together like one. ‘No Rush’ introduces a rather excellent production that is maintained elegantly throughout the entirety of the record. ‘No Rush’ also exhibits a hint of hip-hop influence, too, a genre that’s proven time and time again that it melds well with reggae.
‘No Rush’ is a bit of a fluff tune, but it does a beautiful job introducing the band. The album really hits its stride on its second outing, ‘Writings’ on the Wall.’ I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear this tune. It immediately portrayed that superb social consciousness that aligns so perfectly with reggae. A whole album of ‘No Rush’ would have devolved into monotony. This is a balance that Tomorrow People strikes fairly well throughout the experience, depicted nicely when they transition to a fine love ballad, ‘Independent Girl.’
‘Get It Back’ sheds the primary male lead vocalist for a female-dominated track with a heavy soul influence. The product of this is immensely rewarding, exhibiting the finest of R&B, pop, and reggae influence all in one tightly wrapped gift. Thus, the first handful of tunes on the album all portray a varied sonic experience full of erratic, exciting sounds. Let’s now touch on the remaining highlights, because it would take me several pages to continue moving song by song with such a long album.
While the rest of the pieces I want to touch on are indeed highlights, I would like to mention some of the pitfalls of ‘Bass & Bassinets’ as well. Some tunes are a bit too polished, too suavely commercialized pop that feels void of any true emotion. This may be exemplified on ‘Carry On,’ a fairly forgettable track weighed down heavily in both instrumental and songwriting tropes. There isn’t much of this on the record, but it does feel awkward against some profound content like ‘Writing’s on the Wall.’
‘Again & Again’ is one of the best instrumental excursions on the album, if not just due to that infectious brass section and those killer harmonies. ‘Off My Mind,’ a track featuring Lion Rezz, is one of the most superb productions on the album, creating a wonderfully exotic soundscape. The finale, ‘Free,’ is a soul-tinged powerhouse as well, closing out the effort with terrific flair.
‘Bass & Bassinets’ probably could have been a shorter album. It gets a bit too caught up in some rather predictable, stereotypical pop anthems and does lose track of what makes reggae so wonderful at times. Most of the time, however, their aim is true and the result is extraordinarily good. If they had honed the album down to the nine or ten best tunes, it may have been a seamlessly excellent endeavor. Right now, it’s a great road with a few potholes. Hence, it’s very much worth your time.