The horizon. Where things end, where things begin, and the point where possibilities are limitless.
Inspired decision, then, that Juno Award-winning trio Bedouin Soundclash should choose to dub their latest collection of west-friendly, world-pop Light the Horizon. Inspired. And fitting. "This record is really looking forward," says vocalist Jay Malinowski. "It’s from the point where we don’t have any baggage from the past. We’re just genuinely in the moment with this record, for the first time in a long time." Soundclash co-founder and bassist Eon Sinclair agrees. "It’s a really optimistic and hopeful record," he says. "That’s been said about some of the stuff we’ve done in the past, but this time we’re just feeling more self-assured and more confident in doing what it is that we do in Bedouin Soundclash. It’s positive and optimistic and forward-looking."
Summoning the spirit of the May season in which it was recorded, Light the Horizon charts a new course for Bedouin Soundclash in 2010 — one that is awash with optimism, shimmering with possibilities and heralds the beginning of what could be the most defining chapter in the life of one of Canada’s finest and freshest musical entities. But, as with much in this life, before you know where you are and where you’re going it’s important to know the journey you’ve travelled. And the tale of Bedouin Soundclash has been filled with step after step of something special — from live shows that are as emotionally incendiary as they are monstrously entertaining to albums that have stoked the hearts and minds of thousands.
Forged from friendships made at Kingston’s Queen’s University a decade ago, the Toronto trio released its debut disc Root Fire in 2001. That album, and a steady diet of gigging, paved the way and planted the seed for their acclaimed sophomore release Sounding A Mosaic (2004), which caught critics’ and audience’s ears at home and abroad with its honest blend of pop, rock, punk and reggae. Propelled by the joyous, soul-slaking hit single, When the Night Feels My Song, the disc helped earn Bedouin its first Juno Award, for this nation’s Best New Artist. Follow up release, 2007’s Street Gospels, yielded hits such as Walls Fall Down and Until We Burn In the Sun (The Kids Just Want a Love Song), and only furthered the band’s reputation — earning Pop Album of the Year considerations at the Junos, and leading to international tours performing alongside acts such as No Doubt, Coldplay and Nine Inch Nails.
And here’s where the horizon began to cloud up ever so slightly for a band known for its overwhelming positivities and successes: The constant touring, the pressures, excesses and personal sacrifices that can accompany fame and acclaim began to weigh down on them, with tensions in the band resulting in the departure of drummer Pat Pengelly and a brief, but necessary hiatus for the rest of Bedouin. That time was put to good and positive use, though, founding the new indie label, Pirates Blend Records, with one of the first orders of business being to release a solo disc from Jay, the modestly, marvellously understated Bright Lights and Bruises. While the album allowed Jay to showcase a more acoustic and personal side of himself, the break itself offered him the time and space he needed to truly understand what Bedouin Soundclash meant to him and the possibilities that were now open. "Naturally it makes you appreciate what you have," Jay says. "We all came back really being engaged to Bedouin and really seeing a future for it."
Eon, who had encouraged Jay all throughout the guitarist’s solo exploration, came back to Bedouin equally refreshed. "It was necessary and I think it was great because it allowed us to reconnect with ourselves a little bit. I feel like we were so busy with how fast everything seemed to happen with our careers. After our first single hit, it was kind of like we were going, going, going — which was great, but we didn’t really have time to stop and reflect on where we were going and why. We finally had that opportunity. . . . And since then it’s been amazing. Honestly, never better. Everyone’s feeling a lot more comfortable and healthy and positive and energized."
Adding to the healthy outlook was the addition of longtime Canadian session drummer Sekou Lumumba, who brought with him not only unshakable and uncanny rhythmic skills behind the kit, but an attitude his new bandmates describe as "cool," "laid-back," "relaxed" or, to put it more succinctly — "more ?uestlove than Keith Moon." "He’s very comfortable with anything that we’re throwing at him," says Jay. "That makes us feel confident because the guy’s responsible for keeping the beat together. It’s allowed a lot more expressiveness in the way we’re playing and the way the songs are being written. And as a person he’s very even-keeled and a calming presence amongst us. It’s allowed us to be a little bit more mellow, I guess — take it a little bit easier, be a little bit more reflective."
So, armed with a new outlook, sense of purpose and a batch of songs written in a healthier frame of mind, the reinvigorated and reconstituted Bedouin Soundclash set out to build on their sturdy and stellar three-album foundation, heading down, fittingly, to the City of Brotherly Love and teaming with famed DJ/producer King Britt — an artist who was a member of groundbreaking alt ’90s hip-hop act Digable Planets, and has since worked with such talent as Macy Gray and Santigold, and remixed tracks by everyone from Miles Davis to Everything But the Girl.
The producer and the city also proved to have an impact on the band, with King Britt offering them a window and doorway into the rich Philadelphia music scene via his two decades immersed in it and through his regular Monday night Back 2 Basics residency at the club Silk City, where area musicians such as Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and members of The Roots still show up, sit in, and make music magic. "It was a really inspiring thing for us to be in that kind of environment," says Eon of the overall experience. "For us, it was an opportunity to satisfy one of our other sources of inspiration, which is soul, R&B — more urban genres. We’ve recorded in rock studios and punk studios, this was an opportunity to do something a bit more on the urban level and get that kind of vibe on our record."
Being south of the border also allowed them to focus entirely on the recording of Light the Horizon and step out of their comfort zone, in all aspects. Encouraged by the Back 2 Basics atmosphere, Bedouin chose to record, for the first time live off the floor — an experience Jay describes as "liberating." "We’ve always had the comment that our records don’t sound like our live show," he says, before adding, "And that’s not a good thing."
He likens previous studio efforts to "cut up versions of a person" or a jigsaw approach that never quite reproduced or represented the true Bedouin entity. It’s a problem that has, finally, been rectified by Light the Horizon, an album where everything comes together and an album that is undeniably, unequivocally Bedouin — from its inherent power and energy to its ability to surprise and delight. Longtime fans will hear in tracks such as A Chance of Rain and Mountain Top that expected syncopated island beat, this time supplemented by that seductively lazy delivery and some gorgeously brash, brassy horns or added soul. There’s also the anthemic, yet more melodically grounded Elongo, a song that sounds like a holdover from Jay’s solo sojourn. And, just when the trio and album appears to have exhausted its abilities and ways to worm inside, they deliver the monumental Brutal Hearts, a devastatingly gorgeous duet between Jay and 20-year-old, old soul chanteuse Beatrice Martin (a.k.a. Coeur de Pirate), with string arrangements by the legendary friend to Philly soul Larry Gold.
Of course, that’s only the beginning. The rest will reveal itself to fans, to the uninitiated and to the band itself when Light the Horizon is released on September 28, 2010.
The past is the past. The future? "I don’t know where we’ll go," Eon says of the journey that awaits. "We’re trying to take one day at a time — and every day’s been good so far."
With many, many more . . . just on the horizon.