Review

Comeback of Long Beach Dub Allstars

After almost 20 years, Long Beach Dub Allstars are back with a new record. A self-titled album often means a new opening, sometimes a big change of a band's sound. Is it the case with this Californian legend known for merging reggae, punk rock, ska, dub, hip-hop, and pretty much everything around?

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Long Beach Dub Allstars - self titled - cover

For starters, I think I need to explain a few things. Long Beach Dub Allstars have a well-deserved star status. The band was formed in the 90s on the ashes of cult Sublime after the death of its vocalist, Bradley Nowell. They surely left their brand on the music landscape of the US West Coast. The two albums recorded before the band fell apart in 2002 – Right Back and Wonders of the World – can currently be bought second hand for astronomical prices. But is the band’s popularity a local phenomenon (or in case of the USA more a continental one) or is their outreach actually worldwide? I’m afraid I cannot gauge this from a perspective of a guy from Poland who learned about them just during the last few years. I think that in Europe the sense of this absolute cult around the band is much weaker than on the other side of the Atlantic. Many people probably know the intro theme of Joey TV series, but do they realize that “Sunny Hours” was performed by guys from Long Beach?

As I mentioned, to me it’s quite a fresh discovery, so I had a clear head and no expectations of this new album. My experience tells me that it’s often for the best. I’ll get ahead and make a little spoiler here. Already after listening to the latest LBDAS’ child, I checked their previous releases. To me, they are simply strange. Not bad, they actually sound very nice. Yet I have the feeling that they’are a complete mess as if there was no one consistent idea at all. Ska-punk, hip-hop, reggae, all at the same time. I suspect that this eclecticism might have been that main thought and even be decisive when it comes to the band’s strong position on the scene. I barely appreciate it. It’s just not for me, I think. So while listening to the new album I was even more surprised that… I really like it!

Time changes everything, musicians too, I guess. The new record is orderly, well thought of, and coherent. All these smooth, nice songs are creating a strong, firm construction and from the top of it, Long Beach Dub Allstars are speaking to the world, straight from the heart through the voice of Opie Ortiz. This unmistakable honesty has a huge impact on the reception of this album.

Long Beach Dub Allstars
photo: promo materials

This coherency is also influenced by one key factor – lineup. And it’s somewhat different than back in the day. The base is the drummer, Marshall Goodman aka Ras MG, one of the original members from the 90s. As I deduce from a recent episode of Reggae Podclash at RootfireTV, it’s not without a reason that he’s sometimes called by his colleagues the Field Marshal and the whole project’s current state should be in a big part credited to him. Another recommendation of his social-managing skills might be a fact that apart from being a musician he’s the mayor of the Californian La Palma. The second player, whose career reach as far as Sublime itself is Michael Happoldt on guitar. Already mentioned Opie Ortiz (also known as a tattoo and graffiti artist), Jack Maness (guitar, keyboard), Tim Wu (saxophone, flute), and Edwin Kampwirth (bass) have been previously playing with LBDAS on many occasions and since band’s reactivation in 2012 they are here to stay. Fresh blood, perfectly suited to fulfill an Allstars criteria, are Devin Morrison (guitarist of The Expanders, The Lions and occasionally also Hepcat), Matthew McEwan (guitarist of Tomorrows Bad Seeds) and Roger Rivas, well known to our readers as the keyboard player of the Aggrolites.

Long Beach Dub Allstars – self titled

Experience, authenticity, lineup changes – there’s no point in dwelling into what’s decisive. The effect is that already the opening track “Tell Me” burns into your mind with a strength of July sun and makes you sing the chorus each time together with Opie. Melodic, summer reggae – I guess that’s a proper name for this sound, yet I have to point out that it’s not at all cheap or crappy which is often the case in this kind of repertoire. Yes, it’s quite popish and this album would easily fit into the mainstream radio. But there are some cases when saying that is a compliment and this is one of them. Let’s be clear – while listening to these songs you travel to hot Long Beach with all its benefits and flaws, everyday problems, and joys. It’s completely natural and after a few tunes you feel like all these lyrics are directly intertwined with your life. Consider yourselves warned.

“Owen Brothers” is written in the same mood, but it’s a bit more nostalgic. It’s a celebration of musicians, Ikey and Aaron Owens, who died a few years ago. They were the lifeblood of the local scene and had a strong input into activities of LBDAS. With oh so original yet touching chorus “I love you, I love, I love you, I do” it totally gets me. With age, I’m moved more often. It’s stunning how well the rhythm machine of this band works. Of course, as a non-musician, just a proper fanboy, I don’t know shit about the technical details, but it’s all so perfectly polished, that you simply fall in love with those tunes. Perfect compositions and even better execution.

With “Youth” it’s getting more serious. Kids on the streets, gun violence, lack of perspectives, and ghetto music growing on top of this all. While the wave of protests and riots goes through the USA today, this song is even more relevant, and has a whole new meaning. And it’s a great song with a saxophone wailing in the background perfectly fitting these depressing images.

“Easy” with a guest appearance of toasting vocal of Tippe Lee, kinda sleepy, ballad-type “All Gone Crazy”, roots “Higher Rank” – they all lead to a very surprising “Breakfast Toast”. Full steam 90s ska with lyrics describing in detail a story of a truly epic party, finally broke up by police. This might be the only ska on this album, but it’s really catchy and has so much energy that you could easily divide it between 3 other good songs.

It’s followed by some atmospheric reggae. This is without doubts the dominating ingredient of the band’s sound nowadays. First, we got a great “Dream”, where Opie remembers his late mother. This is one of these songs that while being so obviously personal also allows you to feel it for yourself and really empathize. In the meantime, in the background you can hear sounds very similar to those from “99” by Hollie Cook. What a mood! The next one is “Roof and Floor” about complicated love relationships and fights which are inseparably connected to them. This tune is still set in the same mood, but has some unexpected choruses and a very nice key solo. The album is closed by “Make a Name” which is probably most similar to “Sunny Hours” from 2001 mentioned at the very beginning of this text. This is a very good punchline. It nicely shows how much had to change for everything to stay the same. On one hand, it’s still old Long Beach Dub Allstars that filled Californian dance halls at the turn of the centuries. On the other, the sound that they offer today is so much better on so many levels, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

This album is surely not for everyone. The first time I played it was after a long session with Mango Wood’s skinhead reggae album, whose sound is much closer to my taste. I honestly admit that it wasn’t an easy transition and LBDSA at first seemed insufferably popish and sleek. I suspect that for many of our readers this might be a bridge they wouldn’t want to cross. But this record has something incredibly addictive about it, which makes it feel better and better after every next listen. In my case, it ended up being almost an adoration, but Magda for example after 3 days begged me to play something else while humming all the choruses at the same time. I strongly encourage you to give new Long Beach Allstars a try and dive into this kinda pop, melodic, catchy and from the European point of view most definitely holiday version of reggae.

The album is available digitally, as a CD and on red or yellow limited vinyl. It was released by Regime Seventy-Two and RudeMaker (in this case me) gives it a well-earned quality mark.

 

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