Sunday, August 6, 2017

Duff Review: Pama International "Love and Austerity"

Heavyweight LP, CD, digital download (the album is also being released as a series of four singles via Record Kicks)
Happy People Records

(Review by Steve Shafer)

I've been listening to Pama International's ninth album for weeks now, ruminating about whether or not this is a political concept record of sorts (read on to find out!). However, during that time, what's never been in question is the sheer excellence of all of the ska-reggae-soul songs contained on Pama International's Love and Austerity. The LP is anchored by two incredible covers that kick off each side: Martha and the Vandellas' "Heatwave" and John Holt's "Man Next Door." The former could be read as a metaphor for climate change, while the latter might be interpreted as being about societal breakdown ("I've got to get away from here/This is not a place for me to stay/I've got to take my family/And find a quiet place"). Even the one catchy instrumental on the album is named "Gasoline" (the literal fuel of our planet's destruction and a prime example of humankind's extreme folly). To this mix, add their original "Austerity Skank," which tries to shake off the gray of the punishing Cameron--and now Theresa May/Brexit--years through PMA: "Hard times have come/Now, hard times be gone/No more illusions/System delusions/Our hard times are done...I'm stepping out to a better place/Tired of all of the lies getting in the way/I just want to be free/With no austerity..."

Even most of the lush love songs on this album (with the exception of "Skies Are Blue"--for now!) are filled with friction, dysfunction, and entropy. Life is passing by a man sleepwalking through his relationship in "Wake Up" ("We spend hours/Worrying about the business/Just to go and miss the sunset...Wake up, my darling/For you are the reason why/I celebrate life every time you smile"). Another couple is on the verge of breaking up in "I Cried Until I Stopped"--she's heartbroken over what must happen (but even her tears have limits)--though by the end of the song she defiantly sings that she'll "never stop loving you." The last track on the LP is a soulful cover of John Loudermilk's 1962 tune "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye," which on its face is hopeful about a couple's future together, but can't quite push away the reality that not everything lasts ("Kiss me each morning for a million years/Hold me each evening by your side/Tell me you'll love me for a million years/Then if it don't work out/Then if it don't work out/Then you can tell me goodbye").

On Love and Austerity, Pama International's lyrics may be downbeat, but the exquisite music and wonderful performances pack a staggering emotional wollop. This is the music to help get you through the rough days that most likely lay ahead...

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