Imagine if instead of being part of the post-war country music boom, Johnny Cash instead began making music in an age of samples and synths, electronic potential and one-man digital bands. If he did, the chances are that he would sound a lot like Mr Johnny Ba$h…in fact, I’m not 100% certain that this isn’t him risen from the grave, reborn to ignite a new era in music.
For although MJB is certainly part of the modern era, there is much about him that echoes the “Man in Black” himself – the dark, resonant tones, the feeling of sorrow, morality, or lack thereof, redemption and dreams. Trial shimmers with brooding tones, and if there was a southern gothic tinge to Cash’s music, Ba$h makes music that is gothic in the same way that The Sisters of Mercy expressed the term – cold, clinical beats driving a sharp intellect, gathering darkness cloaking the music, a sense of doom palpable in the air. Razor blades not included…thankfully.
One half rap, one half punk rock, one half an unwillingness to play by the rules…even those of mathematics, Trial is more revolutionary than it may appear on the first spin and as a teaser and taster of his EP, the humbly titled Mr Johnny Ba$h is a Dope MC, it makes you want to pick up that fuller collection of his music immediately, which is exactly the job of a lead single, so there will be a hefty bonus in this track’s pay packet this month, no doubt.
And all of this speaks to where we are in the modern age of music. So many people, from the punks onwards, felt that the way forward was to destroy the past to make room to build the future. How wrong you were Mr Rotten et al. Here Monsieur Ba$h builds a sound for the here-and-now by deftly dancing through the annals of music and liberally, and unashamedly, plundering any shiny sonic object that takes his Magpie-like fancy.
The result is a sound for today that echoes with what has gone before. If he is an artist whose musical vision sees further than his peers, it is because he makes music by, to steal the words of a wiser man, “standing on the shoulders of giants.” In this case, the giants are coincidentally black-clad men of mystery named Cash and Eldritch. (Which even I have to admit sounds like a firm of accountants sprung from the mind of J.K. Rowling.)