RVNG Intl.’s FRKWYS releases have been a serial investigation into the reverberations of influence to be found between emerging artists in the areas of experimental psychedelic, electronic, and ambient musics and some of their key influences, capturing collaborations between the young Turks and the old guard both through music and video recordings. This ninth entry in the series pairs Cameron Stallones’ Sun Araw project with legendary dub artists The Congos. Bringing producer/mixer M Geddes Gengras along with him to St. Catherine, Jamaica, Stallones set about a 10-day-long session of sonic exploration and mystical connection with some of the key players in the legendary Black Ark sound of the 1970s, and the results, perhaps unsurprisingly, are blissfully irie.
In fact, for lovers of dub reggae and (subdued) psychedelic skronk, Icon Give Thank is the stuff of dreams: spaced-out, echo-y dub mantras that feel both like artifacts caked in years of fuzzy magnetic degradation and products of our contemporary moment of sludgy, electronic droning. Of course, there are likely purists who hold The Congos’ Perry-produced Heart of the Congos among a small number of canonical monuments to reggae splendor and eccentricity, and to them, this may seem a few steps too far from anything resembling classical pop song structure. However, even for fans of that earlier era, the ones who found the extended dub mix the material of divine contemplation, this new collaboration will resonate profoundly. As with earlier Sun Araw work, repetition is a key component. Most tracks are built upon combinations of simple, repeating musical phrases that create a soundscape within which The Congos’ harmony-laden vocals can drift and sway.
Following the noodling incantation of “New Binghi,” “Happy Song,” which has been freely available as a streaming track since earlier this year, introduces the basic template of the album. The aural bokeh of the sounds here adds to the sense that the recording could be a lost missive from some primordial dub past. Electronic buzzes and fragmented guitar lines gurgle among a thicket of hand drumming. While it could easily have become a cacophonous maelstrom, it is masterfully mixed (kudos, M Geddes Gengras), allowing the berth for The Congos’ voices to sweeten it with their extolments of the affective power of music.
Perhaps if there is something ‘missing’ here, it is the more overtly dance-friendly aspects of dub — particularly in light of some of Sun Araw’s past work, where there have been some clear moves on Stallones’ part toward channeling his experimental sound designs into thumping pulses that could easily evolve into fuzzed-out bangers. Of course, putting such work into Icon Give Thank might have made this seem a less coherent statement, potentially detracting from the sense that there is a spiritual yearning for connecting not just to dub roots, but the roots of dub. As it stands, the album (along with the essential corresponding film, Icon Eye) stands as a rather moving document of the profundity of the cross-cultural and cross-generational conversation that goes on throughout all popular culture, and given the niche audiences for both Sun Araw and The Congos, this project offers a view on a very rarely explored conversation at that.