Sun Araw & M. Geddes Gengras meet The Congos – Icon Give Thank (FRKWY 9) Review
The FRKWYS series has done an amazing job of bringing kindred spirits together during the first eight releases in the series. The project is curated by the always stellar RVNG Intl label and works to pair younger bands with more established groups have influenced the sound of the newer band. For their latest release (FRKWAYS 9), the collaboration was between ambient explorers Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras with dub reggae legends The Congos. The result, ICON GIVE THANK, might be my favorite FRKWY release yet and is one of the best records released so far in 2012.
The thread, to me, that connects the ambient synth artists and the joyous, thundering dub regee legends is in the line all of their music walks between spirituality and drug use. Both can, within one song, be druggy and zoned out and seem to almost have a mystical sense that wraps its arms around the listener. Where the religious influence is more abstract and spiritual in ambient synth work, there is direct acknowledgement of the Rastafarian influence in much reggae music, including the Congos. Both seem that they would not exist without some reference to drugs, with pot being the obvious connotation to reggae and, well, every drug being tied to work by bands like Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras. The issue of where the spiritual center of the two different types of music would meet is one of the things I wondered most about before listening to the record, but the results are deeper and more richly developed than I could ever have hoped. The overtly religious and drug references are muted and softened by the implicit spirituality and “spaced out” qualities brought by the youngsters. Songs like “Sunshine” & “Thanks and Praise” are most definitely woven through the lens of Dub, but have that elusive sparkle that comes from the bubbling electronics that Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras do so well. The previously featured “Happy Song” is a track that melds the combined sounds as well as any on the record and would fit in with the spacey dub that is (rightly) getting Peaking Lights so much attention. “Sunshine” seems to filter the effect-laden guitars through a smoky prism, with “Jungle” the most wobbly track in the bunch, a discombobulated reggae track that leaves the listener feeling like they have been knocked off their center of gravity. The meeting of minds seems to be cast aside with the Rastafarian praising track “Invocation,” which, to my ears, features the least influence from the young guns of any track (despite the fact that they created all the music). While this track sounds more like a standard Congos track and less like collaboration because of the specific spiritual commentary, the fact that it is the exception that proves the rule speaks to the sound integration that they artists created on ICON GIVE THANK.
Albums from the FRKWYS series can run the risk of sounding like more of a tossed together project than a true collaboration, but the 3 sets of artists brought together for the ninth installment went far beyond just layering their sounds together. The seven songs on the record have a rich, thought out sound that finds a strange common ground between the groups cloudy headed but emotionally rich genres. ICON GIVE THANK not only stands alone in its originality from most LP’s released in 2012, it stands above almost everything else released this year based solely on the amazing songs created by these wildly divergent but spiritually connected artists. The bar for future FRKWYS releases, already set high, has been raised again.
(A cool addition to the release is the DVD titled ICON EYE that comes with the record. The hour long documentary follows the American artists as they head down to Jamaica compound of the Congos to visit and record with legendary band. The video captured, in the rich colors and “only in Jamaica” imagery from the Congos home only adds to the amazing experience of listening to these songs).