Album Review: The Expanders - Hustling Culture
The Expanders, an American group based in Los Angeles, California have come out with their second well-crafted and conceived album. This set of tunes is evidence that these musicians study the vintage recordings and practice the techniques both in their songwriting as well as in the musicianship and recording strategy. The band uses vintage rhythm pattern styles which exemplify how the music slowed down from ska to move into rocksteady and eventually became reggae.
The soul of this band is deeply rooted in rocksteady and rockers styles and out of the gate the album’s title track Hustling Culture begins at such a cool and easy pace, its refreshing to hear and feel in these times of pop and EDM-influenced reggae music taking over the airwaves.
For Uptown Set they take a page right out of the Chantells’ playbook with a song that echoes the Children of Jah release. Adding to the studious nature of the band’s songwriting style is their ability to write lyrics that reflect vintage cultural references and place them in a modern timeless context.
Besides deep bass and analog recording sounds the band’s own vocal instruments harmonize perfectly to compliment lead singer Devin Morrison’s falsetto vocal tone. In the same way that the Beach Boys tone pleased listeners, and created a surf rock subgenre, Devin’s vocals are compelling and add to the well-woven fabric of these songs.
For Piece of Love the tempo shifts to a more traditional one-drop uptempo groove that retains the vintage vibes with organ riffs and the minor key vocal harmonics. The Expanders emulate their forefathers by delivering lyrics in the form of morality tales as in Peoples Business which reminds us not to meddle in other’s affairs.
On Top Shelf the ganja tune of the set, the lyrics again reflect the studious nature of these musicians, delivered in deep patois they sing “go tell the farmer fi plant up di ganja, sensi get free”. Besides the “ganja get free” message, the bass line is slamming, with a dubwise section its a classic.
Lovers themes are featured throughout this album, the song Too Late sounds like it came out of a 1960’s soul kitchen. There’s one instrumental, Reggae Pops which features Dan Hastle from the band Orgone. Its a great steppers style rhythm in tribute to a character by the same name who passed away recently that was a fixture on the LA scene.
For Iron Throne they provide the extended 12-inch version that was released previously on vinyl. It features a true dubwise section to carry out the last minutes. It’s got a crucial percussion with a nyabinghi-style solo that reminds one of the roots of reggae as its own groundation, roots revival.
After years of study what the Expanders have both learned and put into practice is the true sense of what the vintage music is supposed to sound like. The recording techniques reflect the analog style with the bass sound right in front of the composition’s mix, the lead guitar delivers the melody at just the right point, the cymbals crash to punctuate a groove that begins and ends with thoughtful intros and outros all of which harken to a time when the musicians played together in the recording studio as an ensemble just as they would do in rehearsals and on stage. This band produces the songs together out of the jam session versus out of what a producer’s keyboard clicks or console punches dictate.
The Expanders - Hustling Culture
CD / DIGITAL RELEASE [Easy Star Records]
Release date: 06/16/2015
01. Hustling Culture
02. Uptown Set
03. Piece Of Love
04. World Of Happiness
05. People Business
06. Top Shelf
07. Too Late
08. Reggae Pops feat. Dan Hastie From Orgone
09. The Horse
10. Iron Throne (Extended 12″ Version)
11. Thanks For Life
12. Flesh And Bone