You may already know of New Zealand’s Mike Fabs through his production work for the country’s largest reggae export, The Black Seeds, but his solo work under the moniker of Lord Echo is where he shines the brightest. Building upon the classic rocksteady and reggae production techniques he has developed with The Black Seeds, Lord Echo infuses disco, soul and modern club sounds with afro, dub, reggae and other influences from around the world. With 2010’s Melodies, he became an instant underground hit and scored recognition from the likes of Gilles Peterson (who has championed his music ever since) and other tastemakers. He bounced around labels fairly frequently in the last few years – releasing Curiosities in 2013 – but I dare say he has found his spiritual home at the always eclectic Soundway Records. His latest album, Harmonies, came out on the label last month and they’ve also kindly reissued Melodies which had become quite rare recently.
The beauty of Harmonies lies in its absolutely perfect production. Lord Echo is such a master of his craft that this album perfectly captures the spirit of old rocksteady records but re-invents the sound to make it suitable for a modern club. The end result – and this is no hyperbole – sounds completely unique. Obviously, he has had lots of experience with producing reggae but Lord Echo’s solo outings are superbly soulful and smooth. The underlying groove of ‘The Sweetest Meditation’ could hold its own if it was played by a DJ or it could just as easily soundtrack an easy Sunday morning. This is a recurring quality across the album – I find Melodies incredibly relaxing but also irresistibly funky.
‘Just Do You’ is the undisputed highlight of the album with its killer electric bassline and classic-sounding vocals. Lord Echo enlists Mara TK of the similarly soulful outfit Electric Wire Hustle for a number of tracks and its a match made in heaven. There is an alternative version of ‘Just Do You’ called ‘Only You’ which features Toby Laing (formerly of The Black Seeds) but, for me, he lacks the seductively smooth sound which Mara TK brings to the album. Laing is featured elsewhere on the album to greater effect while Lisa Tomlins lends perfect reggae stylings to ‘Low to the Street’ and ‘I Love Music’.
Lord Echo goes solo for two instrumental tracks and one vocal track on Harmonies. The instrumental ones break up the pace of the album nicely and allow him to try out a few neat ideas. ‘C90 Eternal’ moves from Africana to a deeper more atmospheric sound whereas ‘Makossa No. 3’ takes on full saxophone solos, eclectic percussion and varying horn sections. As far as I can tell, ‘In Your Life’ is the only track where Lord Echo lends his own vocals and it’s a blissfully spacious track which features imaginative layering and melodies which fade in and out with an air of spontaneity.
I love to dig around and find little-known records from around the world – reggae, calypso, disco, jazz, funk, etc – but I never recommend them to people because they’re always too niche and most of my friends probably wouldn’t like them. What Lord Echo has done on Melodies is create an album of reggae, rocksteady, afro-funk, soul and disco which I would recommend to anyone in a heartbeat. It’s an easy-going record when you need it but it’s also a funky dancefloor-filler when you need that. Either way, you need it in your life. Call me crazy if you want but Melodies is my album of the year so far.
Essential Tracks: ‘The Sweetest Meditation’, ‘Low to the Street’ and ‘Just Do You’