Stinky Jim – Spacial Awareness (Bandcamp) REVIEW
GARY STEEL pronounces the second pleasing concoction by Kiwi dub connoisseur Stinky Jim in the space of a year a sensorial stunner.
Brit-born Stinky Jim (Pinckney) has been kicking around the traps in Auckland for decades, a genuine tastemaker with an unerring instinct for the music that gently prods at the margins without spilling over into pretension. The man has done it all: released collaborative albums under monikers like Unitone Hifi, Soundproof and Phase 5, proved an able curator of his label Round Trip Mars, stage-managed the legendary Stinky Grooves show on 95bFM, DJ’d wherever there’s an appreciative audience for his mercurial disc-spinning and even penned a long-running column in The Listener (unfortunately no more).
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Jim’s a great exemplar of reliability, consistency and sticking to an essential aesthetic. Trying to describe exactly what that aesthetic is can be as tricky as trying to grab and hold onto a slippery amphibian. Deeply versed in the music of Jamaica, reggae, dub and numerous other related music styles inform his own music without defining it. Growing up in the UK during the punk era, his musical interests are gregarious and his attitude is DIY. While Unitone HiFi was primarily an electronic dub project, his later albums have tended towards happy and slyly winking fusions where pretty much anything goes as long as it aligns with the aesthetic and boasts a pleasing groove.
Last year’s It’s Not What It Sounds Like was an unexpected joy after a very long silence, and Spacial Awareness is more of the same, but different. It’s a dub release in the true sense of the word, as it’s primarily instrumental with mere fragments of what sounds like Jamaican patois echoing through space on some tracks. ‘Steam Fish’ is the notable exception with its enjoyably throaty toasting from Nazamba, who sadly died prior to its release.
The tracks are generally built from the good groove up, which means that they start with an enticing, irresistible rhythm to which is added an appealing kaleidoscope of almost edible sound bites (woozy synths, creamy organs, steel drums… anything that tickles the sonic tastebuds). Most of the tracks run for five or six minutes with only one – the rather hypnotic groove of ‘Runs On The Board’ – extending out to just over nine minutes. I mention this because they’re generally longer than the average Jamaican 7-inch, and for good reason: you need a bit of time to wallow in their psychedelic haze, to move around in the rhythms and all the eddies those rhythms create.
The music here harks back to a time in the mid-to-late ‘90s when many a non-musician with a sampler was concocting album-length trip-hop voyages in sound for late-night after-partying. But while too much of that stuff was ultimately fodder for Austrian hairdressing salons, Stinky Jim’s output continues to feel somehow relevant. Perhaps it’s his genuine connoisseurship of the real Jamaican deal that keeps his fusions feeling authentic, but also never less than fun, and pure pleasure all the way.