“Dub to the Bone,” Super Hi-Fi (Electric Cowbell)
Long before there was dubstep, there was dub. Although dubstep evolved from dub (sort of), the two genres frequently have the opposite effect on listeners — the former can be a wildly aggressive rush of electronica while the latter tends to be an especially hypnotic form of reggae, often a song stripped to its (sometimes modulated) rhythm.
The Brooklyn-based Super Hi-Fi pays loving homage to the older genre with an unexpected twist: trombones. And not trombones as an enhancement, but trombones as a centerpiece.
Two of the five members of the band (Alex Asher and Ryan Snow) are trombonists, and the group’s debut, “Dub to the Bone,” also features a guest trombonist (Adam Dotson) on opening track “Washingtonian.” The brass instrument is even central to the cover art of the release.
Super Hi-Fi’s approach pays off: The trombone’s ambient tone is a natural fit for dub atmosphere, especially when two are played in tandem and processed with vintage tape delays.
Meanwhile, bandleader/bassist Ezra Gale and drummer Madhu Siddappa turn out tasty, reggae-rich rhythms while guitarist Will Graefe patches through what could have been tedious stretches (an unfortunate dub trademark).
The trombones generally sub as vocals of sorts on this virtually instrumental release (notwithstanding a couple of vocal snippets on the first track), but otherwise they work seamlessly with the other instruments.
At its best, “Dub to the Bone” gives the calming feel of drifting through space, nestled in the comfort of a massaging, warm rhythm. Graefe’s guitar offers welcome diversion, such as a splash of surf/jazz on “Neolithic” and a dash of psychedelia on “Public Option (Prince Polo Dub).”
Yet sometimes the serenity gives way to understimulation, as when “Q Street (Subatomic Sound System Remix)” never goes anywhere and “Single Payer (Victor Rice Remix, Pt. 1)” suffers from low energy.
Blame the genre, not the trombones.
Rating (five possible): 3-1/2