It seems to me, admittedly a non-expert in the genre, that reggae and ska, like many other genres (punk and rock music, I’m looking at you) are very good at looking back at their glory days rather than attempting to write their own bright new future. Yes, music of Caribbean origin has already contributed so much to the shaping of modern music from hip-hop to 2 Tone to ska-punk and more besides but why stop there? Writers Eyes is the sound of the latest chapter of that potential future being written and Subject A holds the pen.
The list of people who gathered around main songwriters Erin Bardwell and Dean Sartain to fashion this album is impressive to say the least, not just the great and good of the grassroots scene but boasting the likes of The Selector’s Neol Davis also. As always it is all about the songs and Writers Eyes has them in spades. But as I hinted at, comfort zones and traditions are not what this is about and the blend of the familiar and the fresh is the real selling point here, the end result being a wonderfully drifting take on the ska groove. If Dream-roots is not yet a thing then I believe this genre, which I probably just made up, has found its first disciples.
The album has the ability to tip its hat to the past, especially in the drunken, bluesy ska groove of Nite Life and the gloriously celebratory Road Trip but the overall feeling is one of a sort of lucid dream, a hazy, half-heard sound, the opposite of the sure-footed sound that the ska normally revels in. Opening salvo, It’s True is built from transparent textures and gossamer washes of sonics, all layered one on the other to create shimmering and scintillating musical hues, the title track is a slow and sultry dance floor shimmy and Vega’s Strings is what jazz bands sound like in heaven, all disembodied music intrigue, beautiful yet deconstructed. Penhill Sunrise is a wonderful and slightly unexpected Kinks-like sign off, all innocence and simple revelations.
In an age seemingly dictated by TV cover acts and venues full of bands running through the standards, we need to be looking more and more at making music which creates a secure future for the genres that we love rather than merely tread water out of complacency or worse for the quick buck. Writers Eyes does all that and more, much more.