I was intrigued when I heard about about the ninth volume of RVNG INTL‘s experimental film and audio series FRKWYS (an allusion to the global-minded Folkways label that spans the generational gap between experimental musicians). To me the fragile and emotional musical collages created by US-based Cameron Stallones (Sun Araw) and M.Geddes Gengras had the potential to be a perfect fit for reformed dub-pioneers The Congos, and I looked forward to what I hoped would be more than just a dub album. ICON GIVE THANK is most definitely not just a dub album. Though it shares the genre’s spacious sensibility, it feels very dense; dense with ideas and dense with a mixture of the strange and the familiar. On first listen it I found it confusing, a little overwhelming, suffocating even. And then soon after compelling. I am naturally drawn to music that forces a reaction, be it physical or mental, sour or sweet. Sun Araw & M. Geddes Gengras meeting with The Congos makes my mind race and yet fills me with a strange sense of calm. Not quite the album I was expecting, the more I listen the more intertwined I become with the musical strands, and the more I can enjoy the spaces in between.
As the two groups swing and sway between bombast and subtlety, light and dark, the meeting points become increasingly confused. Excluding the almost omnipresent references to Jah, it doesn’t feel as if The Congos have stamped their authority over the music. Yet it sounds like nothing I have heard from Geddes or Stallones before. Refracting a washed-out tone through the prism of dub to show all of the colors within, ICON GIVE THANK is an album I can fully immerse myself in. Not constrained by technical and stylistic constrictions, and still appealing to the ON-U Sound, Upsetters and King Tubby fanboy in me, I find myself once more inspired at how expansive dub can be when it’s the starting point and not the end result. For me the addition of two unlikely Americans has presented an unexpected and very welcome example of one way forward. I recommend you enjoy it in the most relaxed state you can manage… on the best sound system you can find. You will not be disappointed.