A Strange Transplant
Library Science's Rain City Dub
This Thursday, Library Science play their last Seattle show of 2008 before embarking on a West Coast tour, after which they will spend the remainder of the year in the studio working on their next album. Their music deserves a little consideration. But before we do that, let's identify and locate the band. Library Science have three main members (Peter Lynch, Andy Arkley, and Susan DeLint), they are based here in Seattle, and have been around since the middle of this decade. The band have so far realized two albums, the latest and superior of which is titled The Chancellor (more about that work in a moment). The type of music the trio create is classified as dub, a descendant of reggae and the ancestor of both hiphop and electronica. With Library Science, however, Jamaican dub meets the mode and mood of indie rock.
Library Science are by no means the first band to occasion this meeting of Jamaican pop and American independent rock. That honor must go to Nashville's Phase Selector Sound, whose one and only album, the marvelous Disassemble Dub, is the artistic mark that Library Science have to reach and surpass. And the tremendous progress the trio made between their first album, High Life Honey, and second makes it abundantly clear that they have enough talent to match and supersede Phase Selector's dub/indie rock masterpiece. But wait a minute. We are being a little lazy to end all comparisons of Library Science's dub with the type made by Phase Selector in the late '90s. It's more than fair for us to go all the way back to the early '80s, to Bauhaus and the New Age Steppers. Bauhaus, of course, occasioned the encounter between dub and gothic rock ("Bela Lugosi's Dead," "She's in Parties") and the New Age Steppers occasioned the encounter between dub and punk ("My Whole World," "Guiding Star"). Indeed, Bauhaus's very short dub track on The Sky's Gone Out could be slipped into The Chancellor without notice. And the same could be said about the New Age Stepper's "Nuclear Zulu."
One last comparison: When thinking about Library Science, it's also worthwhile to consider Portland's now defunct label BSI Records, which housed the dub band Systemwide and the dub wizard Alter Echo. What all of these musicians have in common is the development of a dub that has been transplanted to Pacific Northwest soil. It's a new and strange plant, one that could grow nowhere else but here, in this quality of light and air.
Now, what makes Library Science a good dub band? Three things. One, their dub is made without effort or exoticism. It's not a dub that thinks it's special because it's made in a place—Seattle—that should have nothing to do with dub. (New York City's Dub Trio suffer from this very problem—they make a dub that says, "Hey, look at us, we're indie-rock types making dub.") This kind of self-amazement is not in Library Science's music. Particularly on The Chancellor, the dub is made with a sense of necessity, as if they had no other choice but to make this kind of music. It's a sound that exactly expresses the world around them: the overpass of I-5, the parks in the Olmsted system, the sex-positive culture, the keynote speaker at a conference for some dot-com company. Library Science have completely domesticated their dub, to the point that none of it sounds exotic.
Secondly, their dub is at once not heavy and not trite. The problem with Portland's Systemwide, for example, was their dub lacked any kind of levity; the band always meant serious business. Library Science, on the other hand, can take it easy, keep things on the mellow side, let the world float and relax; and yet their musicianship, their art of the echo, is in a constant state of experimentation.
Lastly, and most importantly, the band have a love for the instrument that is at the center of the entire history of dub: the melodica. They not only love it, but know how to use it. More than half of the tracks on The Chancellor are built around, or lead to, the moment the melodica is sorrowfully blown by either Arkley or DeLint. This commitment to the beauty of the melodica shows that the trio have a profound, honest appreciation for the magic of the music they are remaking.