Ticklah vs. Axelrod
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2008, Volume 15, #1
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Thu January 3, 2008, 03:20 PM CST
The spirit of King Tubby is alive, well, and apparently living in Brooklyn. On Ticklah vs. Axelrod, his third solo release, Victor Axelrod — aka Ticklah — the co-producer of the Easy Star All-Stars’ Radiodread and Dub Side of the Moon projects, shows his love for old-school, 1970s-era, Dynamic Sounds Studio-style dub. As a member of the Afrobeat collective Antibalas, and as a session musician whose credits include work with Lily Allen, Robbie Williams, and Amy Winehouse, Axelrod’s bass-heavy, reverb-driven production has added a much needed bottom-end groove to many recent dance hits. Nevertheless, don’t be scared by Axelrod’s commercial savvy. Though it is 30 years and a universe away from dub’s roots, the music on Ticklah vs. Axelrod is the most authentic and engaging collection of Kingston-style, classic, drum-and-bass-driven songs to be released this year.
To say that Ticklah vs. Axelrod is a tribute to the grandfathers of Dub would be an understatement. It’s a "shout it out from the rooftops" love letter that will be heard all the way to Kingston. Working in his own basement studio, Axelrod played almost all of the instruments on the disc himself, patiently layering sounds until he achieved his desired effect. Hearing the laconic seductions of a trombone as it weaves in and out of the hypnotic rhythms created by the bass, organ, and percussion, it’s almost impossible to believe that Ticklah vs. Axelrod is not a lost classic that has been languishing in the corner of King Tubby’s studio since 1978.
Dub was once a cutting-edge, avant-garde form over which sound system DJs could sing, but in recent years, traditional dubplates of the sort that Axelrod creates have all but vanished from the Jamaican musical horizon. At the same time, dub has followed the blues (and other styles originally played by black musicians) in becoming a global phenomenon. Artists from all over the world have been incorporating aspects of the genre’s sonic approach into their songs. More specifically, acts as diverse as Iron & Wine and Shakira have experimented with some of dub’s loose-limbed effects on their latest recordings — often with impressive results. In other words, what began as a strictly regional musical structure for local consumption has morphed into something of international significance. With the subsequent flood of dub-oriented releases and remixes that have hit the market, it is easy to get confused about what is worth hearing. Suffice it to say, nobody is creating dub with more love, understanding, and attention to detail than Axelrod.
For all of Axelrod’s reverence for old-school dub, the songs on Ticklah vs. Axelrod are brazenly contemporary. By incorporating aspects of Latin music, African melodies, and ska, he has managed the difficult task of staying rooted near dub’s reverb-soaked foundation while also experimenting with new sounds and textures to expand the genre’s frontiers. Pork Eater, which features Rob Symeonn on vocals, has to be one of the year’s most infectious songs, while Axelrod’s take on Eddie Palmieri’s classic Si Hecho Palante, which is sung here by Mayra Vega, certainly represents the highpoint of reggae-Latin fusion.
Once considered by most listeners and critics to be novelty music or a kind of stoned joke, dub now represents one of the most creative areas of musical exploration available today. The genre’s open-ended form allows for a level of improvisation and inclusion that has not been heard since the heyday of Miles Davis’ work with Ted Macero or of the Grateful Dead circa 1977. It is a style of music that is without borders or identifiable frontiers, and with artists like Axelrod at the forefront, its future certainly is in good hands. ½
Ticklah vs. Axelrod is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box