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Jay Glass Dubs - Epitaph Music Album Reviews

On what is billed as his proper debut LP after several years’ worth of cassette releases, the Greek producer fashions a wide-ranging attempt to move beyond his dub influences.

Dimitri Papadatos, better known as Jay Glass Dubs, makes dub music from an outsider’s perspective. The Greek producer’s discography, mostly on cassette, amounts to a series of terse statements of discontent. His 2016 release New Teeth for an Old Country glimmers briefly before plunging into noir dub abstraction, as if tracing his native country’s historical timeline from glory to turmoil; 2018’s Plegnic steeps in Athenian nostalgia and ennui by interpolating samples of laïkó, or Greek mainstream pop. Papadatos, far from Kingston or Bristol, seems both preoccupied and at odds with the site specificity of his work. He often emphasizes his self-described “counter-factual” approach to the Jamaican genre by discussing local sound system culture that he was adjacent to, but never really part of.

On Epitaph, which is billed as his “first proper solo LP” (after a considerable catalog of album-length releases stretching back four years), Papadatos moves away from narrow definitions of the genre. He’s excluded the word “dub” from his track titles, choosing instead to pulse the genre's heavy reverberations directly through the veins of his show-don’t-tell effort. Like Papadatos’ other projects, Epitaph is about more than bass: It also incorporates traces of archaic Greek songs, punk rock, choral music, and breakbeats. A sinister religious fervor helps unify the 10 tracks, as do heavy drums and minor-key synths, with the odd touch of blaring saxophone throwing things back off kilter. To purists, dub music carves out the contours of space with a steady heartbeat; Epitaph is as maximalist and nonconformist as a dub record can get without abandoning ship altogether.

Papatados also makes use of his own vocals, to varying degrees of success. Opener “Seikilos & to Console Him” begins with an extraterrestrial take on religious chanting, but the mood is quickly broken by violent hammering and shouting. (The title and elements of the song come from the “Seikilos Epitaph,” the oldest known musical composition.) Papadatos’ incantations infuse the music with a mystical charge, but he struggles to hold onto this quality on “A New Model for Emulation,” which comes off as muddled and flattened by distortion.

Where the first half of Epitaph is caught in a murky undertow, its second half ascends to a higher vantage point. Synths descend from the firmament, pierce through the hollowed percussion on “Intro,” and gain strength among clanging cymbals on “Laid Down.” The drum machine mimics a factory assembly line before a gleaming synth melody emerges from the clamor. When Papadatos’ vocals re-enter in “To My Benefitors,” there’s a psychedelic new calm in his croon, rising like dissipating mist among the low-end echoes and resonant twangs. Lest you forget his dub-contrarian roots, “Reckless” toys with a dizzying matrix of disembodied incantations, throaty drones, and what sound like slivers of glass harp over a tyrannical reverb. The track careens anxiously towards another bold climax only to conclude in an abrupt cliffhanger.

These frequent twists and turns can make for gripping listening, but they’re also the album’s main stumbling block. In a recent interview, Papadatos said he worked on Epitaph over the course of two years, along with a large collection of other projects—and it shows. What he calls his “melting pot” of influences displays impressive range. But as a transgressive take on dub music, Epitaph never quite settles on a final place to rest.


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