CD Review of Build a Nation by Bad Brains, Cool Out and Coexist by Dub Trio, Essential Dub by Various Artists

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Buy your copy from Bad Brains:
Build a Nation
starstarstarno starno star Label: Megaforce
Released: 2007
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Buy your copy from Dub Trio:
Cool Out and Coexist
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: ROIR
Released: 2007
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Buy your copy from Various Artists:
Essential Dub
starstarstarstarno star Label: ROIR
Released: 2007
Buy from

Reach Out International Records (ROIR) got its start as a cassette-only label in the early ‘80s, releasing mostly early punk nuggets and New York-centric titles at first. Hell, I still have a two-CD live bootleg-quality Television release called The Blow-Up that’s one of my most treasured early punk gems courtesy of ROIR (it’s pronounced “roar,” in case you’re an idiot). They slowly branched out into other genres, most notably hardcore/thrash and, even more notably, dub reggae.

Admittedly, ROIR pretty much fell off my radar screen about a thousand years ago. Which is too bad: If you go thumb through their online catalog, and you have any interest at all in early NYC punk, you’ll be whipping out your credit card faster than you can say Johnny Thunders. And it’s why these three releases, all coming on each other’s heels, caught my eye as much for the name of the label as for the bands themselves.

Even though the new Bad Brains album wasn’t a ROIR release, the band’s self-titled 1982 debut was issued by the label, so they’re forever linked in my mind. Not to mention the fact that Bad Brains’ genre-fusing music, a bipolar blending of reggae and what came to be known as hardcore punk, equally describes the ROIR label. In addition to the label’s many fine reggae and dub recordings – to which the new collection, Essential Dub, is an amazing addition – ROIR wrote the book on hardcore with its 1982 release New York Thrash.

And what is Dub Trio if not a serious update of the Bad Brains formula, only heavier? Okay, substitute deep, deep dub for the reggae, and metal for the hardcore punk. And, save for Mike Patton’s lone vocal entry with the band on last year’s "We're Not Alone,” they’re an instrumental group. But otherwise they’re on the same musical turf as HR, Dr. Know and crew. Cool Out and Coexist, Dub Trio’s third, is a live album no less. Anyone who believes dub is a studio byproduct only needs to listen to this CD: the dub effects are being triggered live, by humans, in synch with the unbelievably high level of musicianship displayed by all three of these players. And while the metal edges of at least half of the tunes leave me a little cold at times – much like the Bad Brains’ hardcore thrashing – it’s a natural fusion nevertheless. A little ying with your yang, if you will.

“Build a Nation” is a return to form, of sorts…and a recognition of, and nod to, the band’s devoted following. The band’s highly original (often duplicated, never matched) melding of two distinct styles always set up a musical tug-of-war that seemed to play itself out as much onstage and in the band’s storied history as it did in the grooves of its albums. The band seems in fine form, moving from quick sonic blasts of thrash to down-tempo reggae and back again. It’s still a unique sound – the aforementioned Dub Trio aside, natch – and with HR back on mic, warbling and screeching whatever the hell he’s on about, it still sounds very much like the Bad Brains of I Against I, their widely accepted masterpiece.

But something’s missing. With Beastie Boy Adam Yauch on hand as chief knob-twiddler, Build a Nation should sound a hell of a lot heavier than it does. That’s only part of it, though. Is it too clean, where their past albums came off dirtier, untidier, more chaotic affairs? Sure, a bit. It’s probably me, probably my inability to really dig into such a rambling, disorderly back-and-forth affair that’s clouding my judgment. Yeah, that’s it. Maybe that’s also why I so like Essential Dub, a diverse and thoroughly modern sounding collection of dub grooves from the likes of Bush Chemists, Bill Laswell, Niney the Observer, Phase Selector Sound, and the other two bands mentioned in this review.

~Una Persson