Dr. Israel seemed poised for quasi-mainstream success back in 1998 with his Inna City Pressure
. That was before his label folded, stranding him mid-tour and touching off several years of music-biz-casualty soul-searching. Now Israel has returned from the mountain with Patterns of War
, his first "proper" release in seven years (though he's kept busy collaborating with various idiosyncratic partners during that time). Dreadtone International, a loose collective of the Doc and two female singers -- talented novice Lady K and Chemda Kalili of Conjure One fame -- have crafted a record that should be required listening for anyone with an appreciation for dub and a taste for genre-blending.
Dub and reggae are Patterns of War's most obvious influences, but Dr. Israel also pulls hip-hop, rock, world music and a touch of drum 'n' bass into the mix. The latter genres create a particularly curious dichotomy: organic rhythms blend with blatantly electronic elements. Patterns of War is indeed an album of contrasts; the combination of Lady K's rich, smoky tone and Kalili's lighter, more birdlike timbre is a particularly compelling one. Dr. Israel seems content to hang back, scattering his vocal interjections throughout the songs, but the two women are fully up to the task of carrying the majority of the singing load.
Dr. Israel's production skills are unparalleled. His style is highly experimental; the requisite dense echo beefs up many of Patterns of War's beats, but Israel doesn't stop there. "Interference" is just one example of his wizardry with overdubs and effects, as layered vocal tracks are stretched through a tinny effect over a distorted guitar lead, crashing cymbals, organ and (eventually) crowd-protest noise. Oregon dub-rockers Systemwide contributed the music on this track, making it the album's most devil-horns-worthy cut. The beats and bass prove to be Patterns of War's most indelible ingredients, though -- in placement as much as intensity. On "Tetze", the delicate sleighbells and vocals intro renders the low end's boom twice as powerful, once it finally makes its explosive entrance.
Patterns of War is dedicated to "victims of military violence throughout the so-called modern world" -- an incisive indictment of societies that allow millions of people to live without basic necessities, let alone electricity, before becoming "collateral damage" or being actively hunted down and killed. Politics are inextricably bound up in Dr. Israel's music, but Dreadtone International's soulful, vital talent makes Patterns of War an essential album, regardless of its message.