Album Review: Bugle - Toxicity
by Gardy Stein
Few artists nowadays are as quick, honest and precise to react to both local and global happenings as Bugle. With Anointed (2014), Be Yourself (2017), Picture Perfect (2019) and two EPs in between, the Kingston-based singer, An9ted Entertainment founder and activist has left his mark on Reggae and Dancehall, slowly building a worldwide following – not through hype, but through substance. His fans appreciate his high-quality releases, his unique vocals and his full commitment to clean, conscious, uplifting and thought-inspiring lyrics, thus setting an example for other entertainers to follow. With Toxicity, he has now released another impressive studio album, and taking a closer look at and listen to it is a must.
First, the cover art by Kevin Rickets (KR Design): against the background of an urban agglomeration clouded in dirty exhaust fumes we see an old-fashioned TV from which a man's face emerges, crying out in obvious pain and frustration. The title of the album is printed in bold above this scenery, a wordplay with the noun 'toxicity' and 'toxic city', highlighting the negative effects big metropoles tend to have both on environment and society.
Second, the team: next to the whole An9ted family, Evidence Music holds a share in both production and release. As in prior works, the gifted Andrew "Anju Blaxx" Myrie (Black State) is part of this album as well. Not only did he mix half of the tracks (other names on the mix are Michael Jarrett, Kavin Henry, Red Boom, Nicolas Meury, Sean Chablal and, of course, Shane Brown), he also composed Prenup and Affirmation, the obligatory spiritual thanksgiving framed by a devotion of Bobo Flames and Bobo Dale. Other producers include Inna Mi House Music (Consequences & Time Is Of Essence), 808 Delavega (Experience & Compliment), Juke Boxx Productions (Connected & Tan Bendecido), Dubz Music Records (Summer Is Beautiful) and Cr203 (Optimistic).
Third, the music: 14 tracks, one intro and one interlude make up the playlist, the diversity of which invites for undisturbed, in-a-row listening pleasure. Among these, Change The World has been around longest. Released last year August, this An9ted Ent./ Ajus Di Vybz Music production is a direct reaction to and commentary on the brutal killing of George Floyd, strongly supported by the voices of Jesse Royal and Kabaka Pyramid and a phenomenal video. Remember my opening statement?
Starting off the release is an a capella piece featuring the goosebumps-inducing voices of Bugle himself, Adeana Myrie and Tony Gold. Selfishness, cruelty, ungratefulness and corruption are just some of the human flaws they address, culminating in the disillusioning question: "Why are we so toxic?" This Intro is also used in the initial sequence of the accompanying video (trigger warning: it includes a violent scene not fit for children!) for the title track which is up next. Written on a dark, dramatic riddim co-produced by Twelve 9 Records, Toxicity sums up the observations Bugle has made about our media-focused society in general and politicians in particular. "Wah me notice, yeah, every man a preach but nobody nuh practice." As always, the lyrics used are well thought out and thoroughly inspiring, as the following example, placed after a well-known Marley quote, shows: "You can brainwash who fi brain dutty, but me know seh you cyaan mess up every mind!"
The subsequent Consequences and Time Is Of Essence hold up a mirror to our own actions as well as to those who are in charge of ruling, thus continuing the sobriety of the first track. In addition to Bugle we hear the voices of Julian "Juju Royal" Marley and Bounty Killer.
Next to these established artists, Bugle also makes sure to introduce new talent. Experience features Nation Boss, a rising star on Jamaica's musical sky, who contributes a fresh flow of rhymes in a bright, melodic voice of which we'll certainly hear more of in the future.
Another exciting feature is Beenie Man on Affection. Far from building castles in the air, both this track and Prenup talk about the matter-of-fact sides of a relationship. While the latter advices people to sign a prenuptial agreement before marriage, the former requests equal investment in emotions by both partners. "Me nah love nuhbody weh nuh love me!"
A more romantic take on love can be found in the Jahmiel combination Connected as well as in Compliment, which is the most laid-back song on the album. Almost Roots in its sonic make-up, it is an emotional livication to the one and only: "Baby you remind me of my herbs, girl a yuh calm down mi nerves, always have my lips on you..." Sweetness!
After all these rather serious issues, a couple of tracks loosen up the mood and make room for fun. Both Summer Is Beautiful, featuring Karims and Chiqui Dubs from Panama, and Tan Bendecido featuring Doris bring in some Latin flavor - give in to the dancing mood!
My favorite song, especially after watching the appreciative video shot by 300K in which Bugle visits his childhood community, is My Life. Produced by Sweet Music and mixed by Emudio aka German, it has hymn potential with its bright, joyful riddim, and Bugle's vocal performance is at its best here. Especially the guitar intro and outro add a wonderful organic vibe which is otherwise rare on the largely digitally produced tracks. Shout-out to all players of instruments!
In sum, Toxicity lines up a whole lot of talent, and although it has a very modern feel musically, the subjects treated are deeply conscious. The main message here is a call-to-action to change the way we deal with nature and fellow human beings. Once you realize the toxicity of especially urban surroundings, make sure you distance yourself from toxic relationships, both with people and objects. Turn off TV and mobile devices once in a while, find a peaceful spot in nature (be it beach, forest, hills or desert), breathe deeply and detoxify. And give thanks to Bugle for another evocative album!
Bugle - Toxicity
DIGITAL RELEASE [An9ted Entertainment]
Release date: 10/22/2021
01. Intro feat. Tony Gold & Adeana Myrie
04. Time Is Of Essence feat. Julian Marley & Bounty Killer
05. Change The World feat. Jesse Royal & Kabaka Pyramid
06. My Life
07. Experience feat. Nation Boss
08. Connected (Interlude)
09. Connected feat. Jahmiel
10. Tan Bendecido feat. Doris
12. Summer Is Beautiful feat. Karims
13. Affection feat. Beenie Man
16. Affirmation feat. Bobo Flames & Bobo Dale