One thing that can be said about Wellington, New Zealand’s The Black Seeds: their sound is unmistakable. Seconds into Fabric (Easy Star Records, 2017)- between the clipped lead guitar, the organ bubble, and the snare pounces, The Black Seeds arrive in full force. Amid myriad bands integrating reggae or living it fully, this sextet makes something wholly their own (no SoCal vibes whatsoever). Mostly, this means two-parts reggae, one-part 70’s soul, and one-part funk. But for Fabric, reggae comes through more than anything, both in the instrumentation and the messages.
Another great thing about this band is their consistency. While I couldn’t say that any of their five albums are canonical, they are all steadily above average. Fabric continues this trend with all good songs and several superb songs. But this also means they haven’t grown too much- not necessarily a bad decision, since many bands end up abandoning their earlier sounds, the very elements that made them special. B.S. stays true to their course, even if that course takes them in circles sometimes. I certainly don’t mind because it’s a fun circle to listen to.
“It won’t be long/ before something good happens for ya,” Barnaby Weir sings on “Better Days”. The roots riddim vibes hard. Thick bass and stratospheric background guitar blitz the speakers as Weir presses on about positive changes he’s sure are coming. This uplift cascades through the album. “Ride On” even has a similar groove to “Better Days”, but that’s okay. It’s more restrained and packed in and the sing-a-long style of the melody is infectious. “My little island paradise/ It feels so nice/ We play it twice,” Barnaby offers. “You know, I’d love to stay/ I’m sad to say/ I can’t stay long,” he adds. Minimal lyrics like this can rarely be pulled off, but B.S. nails it.
Two songs steal the show:
“Back To You” starts off kind of weak. The lyrics aren’t too impressive and the rhythm is too synthy for my taste, but as soon as the chorus hits, along with a subtle-but-effective drum fill, then the song takes off. “I always seem to come right back to you now,” Daniel Weetman sings. “I wrote these words for you, now/ You stand as one under the sun and moon.” Hmm. Cryptic and poetic. But the song doesn’t win because of its lyrical accountability; it’s mere rise and fall, chorus to verse, is so sexy.
“Beleza” begins with a voiceover (uncredited) that talks about global climate change in a very unrelenting manner, as the instrumentation builds slowly below it. Clearly, this message sets up the song’s theme, and on a personal note, I’m thrilled to hear a reggae band take on contemporary worldly struggles, such as climate change. The groove is addictive as, “She is your mother/ like the Earth is your protector… We are together/ We are part of something special… Time and money/ All it brings you is trouble,” hits home. Midway through, dub style takes over and the groove amplifies.
That groove has a particular quality, unique to The Black Seeds. Even the weaker songs, like the funky but cliché “Freakin’” and the listless “Lightning Stikes”, aren’t all-bad because the band can always rely on their cohesion.
Props to Lee Prebble, who mixed the album, for cranking up Francis Harawira’s bass throughout Fabric, as it pulls all the forces together and makes for a danceable, play-it-loud record end to end. This is indeed more from a solid band. Fans won’t be disappointed. Nubes will say, “Woah. Who is this? I like them!”