This Album Changed My Life: The Skatalites meet King Tubby – Heroes of Reggae in Dub (1999)

Mark Speer of Khruangbin says the album has been influential to the way he writes music

Khruangbin play Whelan’s on March 4th. Band member Mark Speer says The Skatalites meet King Tubby – Heroes of Reggae in Dub album  has “truly shaped the way I approach arrangement as well as sonic presentation”. Photograph: Mary Kang  

Khruangbin play Whelan’s on March 4th. Band member Mark Speer says The Skatalites meet King Tubby – Heroes of Reggae in Dub album has “truly shaped the way I approach arrangement as well as sonic presentation”. Photograph: Mary Kang  

 

I first heard this record while I was going to luthier school in Arizona (where you learn to make and repair stringed instruments). I’d played in a few ska bands growing up, but this wasn’t the kind of ska that I knew, and soon I wouldn’t be listening to anything else.

I was homesick and lonely at the time, and something about the spacious, otherworldly sound of this record allowed me to be transported wherever I wanted to. 

The songs are pretty standard, but they’ve been ripped apart and re-contextualised by King Tubby’s post-production work. Instruments are fading in and out, the drums and horn section sound like they’ve filtered through some sort of ancient Moog synth or something, and the whole thing is washed in echoes and reverb. 

Melodies start and only begin to develop before they drift off into a wash of echoes. The vocalists’ performances have been cut up to the point of resembling Dadaist poetry, with only snippets and fragments of their gospel-tinged lyrics echoing from far away.

Through it all the bass and drums are clear and present, and they keep the whole thing firmly rooted and grounded, even while everything thing else seems to be flying off into space. This album has been truly influential to the way that I write music, not only from a rhythmic perspective but also by showcasing the effect of the tension and release created by incompletion and resolution. 

These recordings are of a full band – 12 players and two vocalists – but there’s so much space. This record has truly shaped the way I approach arrangement as well as sonic presentation.

Khruangbin play Whelan’s on March 4th.

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