Album Review: Fikir Amlak & Brizion - Higher Level
by Gardy Stein
It might not be the first release of this young year, but it certainly is one of the most interesting so far: Higher Level. Before turning to the artists involved, allow me to drop a line about the label, Akashic Records. Self-described as spreading "media that shares the beauty of Rastafari", it draws upon the antroposophic idea of the Akashic Records, a collective metaphysical inventory of all past, present and future thoughts, emotions, intentions and words (from the Sanskrit term "akasha" which designates the life force everything existant has originated in). Deep spiritual stuff, that is, and thus the perfect roof to house an album such as Higher Level.
With Fikir Amlak, this perfection extends to the vocalist as well. The artist, well-known in the Roots- and Dub-scene especially for his fine collaborations with UK-based soundsystem and producer King Alpha, conveys mental and physical strength, a definite grounding and full awareness of the energies at work in his music and message that's impossible to shirk. Due in equal parts to his early exposure to Rastafari teachings, a 7-year hiatus of meditative seclusion and growth as well as an undeniable talent, his songs are made to be heard - loud and repeatedly!
The third variable in this Higher Level equation is BriZion (DubStrand Studio), a Dub-producer based in California with an impressive output. His Bandcamp-page alone displays over a hundred releases! Having worked with Fikir Amlak before, he knows exactly how to craft a soundscape fit for the singer's vocals.
This special magic of their collaboration already unfolds in the first and title track. Although the overall sonic impression is that of a purely digital approach, the laid-back Reggae skank as well as the all-permeating bass create a spherical feel that is deliciously filled with Fikir's musings about the open door each of us should step through to reach that higher level.
If possible, the subsequent It's On You even intensifies this experience. Faster in pace, the steppas-beat is just contrived for big Soundsystem speakers, and the calmness with which Fikir rides it makes for an exquisite contrast. Get It, then, displays a definite HipHop-influence in music, wording and flow, while Last Time picks up the Reggae-thread again, lyrically looking back on a tough past and ahead to a (hopefully) brighter future. In the same vein, Better Must Come speaks straight to your heart, promising freedom and healing. Exploiting his full vocal range in a Vaughn-Benjamin-style, Fikir Amlak makes us feel like sitting on a mountain top at sunrise in this one. Bliss!
Faith and conviction - that's what Not Be Moved is all about. As in every other track, the singer enchants with his congenial ability to placidly lead us to the core of the song, without ego or conceit, letting words and timbre speak for themselves. Closing the album, Journey Goes On has more teachings in store for us, assuring us at the same time that the artist's road will continue, which is a good thing to know. The seven tracks mentioned are followed by a dub version each, giving the music room to unfurl. And while, in my humble opinion, a little less hi-hat tinkling would have done the release no harm, this space is prominently taken.
Higher Level is an amazing trip from A to Z, "something totally different" as Mike B (Akashic Records) puts it. "We’re excited to see where it leads", he adds, and you are all invited to be a part of this journey. Up is the way to go!
Fikir Amlak & Brizion - Higher Level
DIGITAL RELEASE [Akashic Records]
Release date: 01/29/2021
01. Higher Level
02. Higher Dub
03. It's On You
04. It's On You Dub
05. Get It
06. Get Dub
07. Last Time
08. Last Dub
09. Not Be Moved
10. Dub Be Moved
11. Better Must Come
12. Better Must Dub
13. Journey Goes On
14. Journey Goes Dub