Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.
This is a reggae album. It may be the reggae album, I don't know the rules. But it's the most reggae reggae that ever reggaed, as far as I can tell, so if you're looking for a place to start your reggae adventures, this seems as good a place as any.
The thing about Super Ape is that while it's a ton of fun, I don't know how to critique it. Reggae seems so consistent. Like, reggae = a time signature, a tempo, and a couple instruments. There's piano in there, and a certain kind of drum, and a very specific guitar sound. Put them in a music blender, press blend, then pour the mixture into a CD case, and when it cools, bam! You have a reggae CD.
At least, that's the Mister Rogers behind-the-scenes video I have in my head of the reggae factory. But I am also aware that reggae has a storied history. And because I have an advanced degree in Trying Not to Embarrass Myself as Much as Possible, I'm even aware that it's not totally defined by "Bob Marley invented reggae because something something revolution/marijuana, and then white people started covering it, and pretty soon, here comes Steve, that kid from your high school wearing a poncho and sandals with a vacant stare and a weed-leaf backpack patch."
Lee "Scratch" Perry, according to the internet, was around for the very birth of reggae-that-called-itself-reggae. The internet and music nerds can tell you a lot about the ska-to-rocksteady-to-reggae evolution; I'm ill-equipped. (Also, I'm leaving "dub" on the table for the same reason.) But Perry is the 100 percent real deal, he's still alive, he's 78, and you should definitely look him up. Wait, this is dub. Which is a subgenre of reggae? Or no, it's its own thing. It depends on who you ask.
Aaargggh, I still have to get to the important part! Crap. Okay, so what happens when you listen to this? Here are some things: a lot more flute than I was expecting. Perfect crispness of sound in what seems like such a casual musical style. Great "da-da-da-dum"s on track four, "Underground." Guitar that sometimes sounds underwater. Calm, faded drums. A rhythm so steady and consistent you'd think it could've been played by dub robots.
The fragments of reggae that have risen to the surface of contemporary culture seem like Steve, hanging out at a bus stop and making you wonder if they still make hacky sacks or if he saved that one from 1995. But actually listening to this full album (advice: Give it some time and multiple listens) is a good way to go back and find the real music under the cruddy white pop-culture coating. The calm, warm, breezy beginning, pre-Steve.
I give this an "always start at the beginning" out of 10.