Album Review: Rising Tide - Pixel Prison
by Gardy Stein
"It's a musical ride, free your mind and you will have a good, good time!"
Approaching new experiences, unknown places or people with a free and open mind is always a good idea. The same is true for music, especially when it is as innovative and genre-transcending as that of Rising Tide. Founded by the musicians that, for almost two decades, defined the sound of Groundation, they parted ways with Harrison Stafford in 2016 and continued their trademark fusion of roots reggae and jazz with new band members, coupled with thought-provoking lyrics of current, mostly ecological and socio-political themes. Pixel Prison is their third release after the debut Rising Tide in 2016 and the subsequent EP Together in 2022, recorded with the Hawaiian singer Mike Love. This collaboration worked so well that both he and the four songs of the EP have made it to the new album, i.e. Together, Pixel Prison, Dollar and Medicine Man. The latter features the second important figure in the creation of this album, Clinton Fearon, who kicks off the ride with Welcome To My World.
A perfect opener, the band introduces their oeuvre to the listeners with a melodious piece, powerfully inhabited by Fearon's warm vocals. While both verse and chorus are charmingly harmonious, the last part of the track is all jazz, with wild drums, high-pitched guitars and energetic keys – the bass alone holds steady. Remarkable: some of the songs are intricately connected to each other, the end of one flowing into the beginning of the next. Thus, the above-mentioned Medicine Man starts on the last note of a heavy crescendo, initially flowing on a relaxed reggae drop, but then building into another multi-instrumental frenzy towards the end, as its predecessor. Lyrically, it describes how musicians should act as healers and teachers, with bass, guitar or piano keys in their hands. Mike Love and Clinton Fearon both contribute to the expressionism of the song, and the former's emotive singing style also carries us to the difficult subjects addressed in the other four songs he's blessing with his presence.
The title track Pixel Prison, as you might guess, talks in quite a sarcastic manner about the addiction to the visual world of social media, the constant need for perfect self-portrayal to get clicks and likes. "This is a downward spiral!", Mike warns, as the obsession with the digital sphere removes the focus from real encounters, from conversations and nature.
From self-reflection to politics: Mr. President doesn't call any names, but the criticism is clearly directed to the one in power during the writing of the song 2 or 3 years ago. The dynamism of this piece is amazing, with its smooth chord transitions and the rise and fall of Mike's voice, providing harmonies for himself or echoing in off-beat style from 4:20 onwards. A true singer's craft! "Mr. President, you're a relic of a system gone wrong… You've had your fun, but now it's time to go!" The subsequent Dollar picks up the harsh criticism of capitalism, extending it to diverse life realities such as losing your job, the wrong diet or overuse of medications already of children to "function" in this meritocracy; the words are presented with distorted voices that create an almost creepy atmosphere.
Together we can make it! Talking about the tendency of mankind to put things off and blame others for things gone wrong, this song calls us to take responsibility for our (past) actions and fix what's not right in our environment. "It's gonna taka a whole lotta work now to repair all the damage we've done, but if we all come together as one, we gonna make it. Together!"
A multitude of wondrous sounds invades our ears in the subsequent Onward. Although it's not a "full" song, rather a kind of interlude, it is an important transitional piece, combining in a unique way the preceding Together and the subsequent track, The Race, a call-and-answer style duet between the band's female singers (see below) and Denver 'Feluké' Smith, thus preserving a voice gone much too soon. Can you endure the race, the tidal rising? Bringing the voices of Kim Pommell, Sherida Sharpe and Faith Waltson to the fore, I Arise encourages us to do our best, to develop our innate abilities, despite circumstances that might make it difficult to rise.
Another instrumental, The Rising Tide introduces each band member with an extensive solo in turn. The skills of Cameron Peterson on guitar, Ryan Newman on bass, Paul Spina on drums, Jason Robinson on sax & flute, Mingo Lewis Jr. on congas & timbales, as well as Marcus Urani on everything else (keys, piano, Hammond organ, clavinet, dub station and percussion) get a well-deserved highlight here – applause from my side!
With Work It Out and two dubs, the album closes. From the musical quality of the recordings to the exceptional vocal deliveries, from the important subjects touched in the lyrics to the intelligent and creative arrangement of the songs and the playlist, Pixel Prison is a wonderful addition to post-pandemic 2023 – a companion into better times ahead!
Rising Tide - Pixel Prison
DIGITAL RELEASE / VINYL / 2LP [Old Growth Records]
Release date: 11/10/2023
01. Welcome to My World feat. Clinton Fearon
02. Medicine Man feat. Mike Love & Clinton Fearon
03. I Arise
04. Together feat. Mike Love
06. The Race feat. Feluké
07. Pixel Prison feat. Mike Love
08. Mr. President feat. Mike Love
09. Dollar feat. Mike Love
10. The Rising Tide
11. Work It Out
12. Dub Together
13. Welcome To Dub World