Saturday, December 12, 2020

Duff Review: The Attractors "Love Bombs"

Artwork by Danny Rebel 
Jump Up Records

(Review by Steve Shafer)

"Say E for Evil," the first track on The Attractors' stellar third album Love Bombs, opens with a sound clip (that I initially thought came from V for Vendetta!) of the British writer/academic Alan Watts--who was famous for interpreting and promoting Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism for Western audiences--talking about the symbiotic relationship between good and evil: "All conflict, Jung was saying, all opposition has its resolution in an underlying unity. You cannot understand the meaning of 'to be' unless you understand the meaning of 'not to be.' You cannot understand the meaning of 'good' unless you understand the meaning of 'evil.'" Essentially, good and evil each define the other, and are not fully understood on their own without an awareness and understanding of the other (the dualism found in ying and yang). To be good, you have to know and embrace your dark side, which helps you delineate the parameters of what is good. (Interestingly, in the Genesis creation myth, when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, some interpretations are that it was less about the Fall of man/original sin, but more symbolic of humanity's acquiring the "knowledge of duality/opposites/separateness as opposed to pure, unaware consciousness where there is no self and other.")

So, it only follows that Love Bombs has a "Good Side" and an "Evil Side," as noted on the LP's paper labels. But the songs featured on each side of the are not so easily defined. The tracks on the "Good" side are not about what we think to be obviously or inherently "good" things, but about matters in relation to the definition of good. And the instrumental ska and reggae on this side is rather slow in tempo and downbeat in mood (though still quite excellent and catchy)--like the kind of music one would march to as you slog (knowingly or not) toward disaster or oblivion (this is a covid-19 era album, after all). The aforementioned "Say E for Evil" is included on this side--you need to learn about evil to know about being good. "Strictly for Cash" includes this snippet of Wall Street/Gordon "Greed is Good" Gekko dialogue: "It's not a question of enough, pal. It's a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn't lost or made, it's simply transferred from one perception to another." In Taoism, moral notions/distinctions of good and evil are viewed as perceptual. At face value, money is neither good or bad, but it can be used to do things that are perceived as good or evil. "One Upper" refers to a person so insecure and worried about being thought of as weak and/or insignificant that they constantly work to depict themselves as superior to others--to appear to be the opposite of what they are. And even seemingly sweet and innocent, and unquestionably adorable, kittens can be plotting against their owners ("Kittens (Conspiracy Dub)").

The "Evil" side beings with the slightly nefarious-sounding "The State of Things (Part II)" (an even better version of the same track that appeared on their 2016 album The Move) that incorporates a sample of Albert Einstein (from a 1950 TV interview with former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt): "Is there any way out of this impasse created by man himself?" Einstein was commenting on about how insane it is that humanity had achieved security from world war through the creation of weapons so fearsome that their very use will wipe out humanity ("Peace through Strength")--but had failed to address the underlying mentality/cause of war: that we believe that groups of human beings are separate and apart from the others, despite the fact all of us are closely connected and of the same species (but we perceive there to be all of these differences between us). "Grinding Work Fuck" is kind of harried and frazzled, but upbeat through gritted teeth. The chipper "Surveillance Tech" is surely about how all of the incredible technological advancements we've experienced over the past quarter century are extraordinary, and have brought all sorts of benefits and convenience to our lives, but the price is that our every click and move are recorded, monetized, and monitored by corporations and government agencies. The sweet title track "Love Bombs" conjures up cartoony Yellow Submarine-ish images of the good people of Pepperland dropping heart-shaped "All You Need Is Love" munitions on the Blue Meanies to transform them into nice folks, but it refers to a practice of showering people with attention and (feigned) affection in order to manipulate and control them. This tactic is often used by gangs, pimps, and cults (the Moonies coined the term "love bombing" in the 1970s). Everyone needs to be loved--it's the greatest emotion that humanity is capable of feeling and expressing--but love also can be weaponized for hateful ends.

The Attractors (who've dropped the "Brooklyn") are a rotating conglomeration of notable Boston and NYC ska and reggae musicians with trumpeter Rich Graiko (The Void Union) making it all happen. On this album, the group includes guitarist Andy Bassford (Toots and the Maytals), percussionist Larry McDonald (Lee Perry, Toots and the Maytals, Peter Tosh, The Skatalites, Gil Scott-Heron), trombonist Buford O’Sullivan (Easy Star All-stars, The Scofflaws, The Toasters), bassist Dan Jeselsohn (Mephiskapheles), keyboardist Ken Stewart (The Skatalites), King Django (Stubborn Allstars), tenor saxophonist David Hillyard (The Slackers), bassist Thaddeus Merritt (Westbound Train), Eddie Ocampo (The Insteps, SAS, The Full Watts Band), Jesse Hayes (The Void Union), and others.

For an album full of boss instrumentals, The Attractors' Love Bombs sure has a lot to say.

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