:Music Review: Servitor – Beats To The Ground
Review by Maresa Whitehead
Are you a belly dancer (of any variety)? Are you looking to feel the pumping hum of the drum while you work out? Perhaps you need a simple musical nudge to reconnect with your primal spiritual self while you meditate. Do you want to distract your children who love to run around like crazy to dance beats? Are you interested in modern interpretations of traditional beats from around the globe? Or maybe you just love Servitor’s past albums and you’d like to hear the beats more purely, away from the electronics that, at times, bury them. If any of these scenarios fit your bill, you won’t want to miss Servitor’s Beats To The Ground.
The second in a 2015 double release, Beats To The Ground is the more minimal of the two (read my other review for The Forest Crept Back Into The City here). It features no fancy electronics, no frills, just clear drum dance beats to rattle your body and brain. But that shouldn’t be confused with the album being any less powerful—in fact, some might argue that’s it’s more commanding when the dance beats are stripped to their core as they are here. Besides that, the exclusion of any but percussive instruments allows Sean Malley the opportunity to flex his skills. His drumming is extraordinary, even otherworldly.
There’s another reason Beats To The Ground shines. It’s Servitor’s rendition of a remix album, or, to be more specific, an “undermix” album, if you will. Many of these tracks were featured on previous Servitor albums, including The Forest Crept Into The City. In fact, Beats To The Ground opens with a track from this most recent endeavor. “Root Room” features the drum line from “Root Room D00m B00m,” which Servitor explains is “A little bit B[h]angra, a little bit Mambo.” Here, the album strips down your favorite previous Servitor tracks (and they are labelled for easy association) so you can hear the drums much more clearly. In this way, you can catch minutiae which might have fallen beneath your radar when layered with other instrumentation. It might even lead to a higher appreciation for the sheer physical work that Malley puts into each track on his albums as he plays his hand drums. The songs aren’t just a piece of his mind and soul, they are the work of the physical labor of making music with the body.
Of course, the album won’t appeal to everyone—others may find it to be less engaging. It’s not strictly in the goth, industrial, metal, or what-have-you genres, and to some, that makes it difficult to connect. But to me, the album is just as blood-rushing danceable as any club hit, besides the fact that much of its contents comes straight from other albums that are in “the scene.” There’s something else, too. In contemporary Western music (including our beloved darker genres, let’s face it), listeners are inundated with layer after layer of electronics, vocals, and instruments outside of the percussion family in an attempt to meet that sweet spot of “sellability” to the highest number of people. While percussion is still one of the main drivers of pop music, it often doesn’t sway from the rigid 4/4 beat or derivatives thereof. For a modern Western audience trained by the industry to need more musical filler and recognizable regularity in their music, a percussion-only album might not make the grade.
However, it is precisely that audience that an album like Beats To The Ground wants to reach. The album, as does all of Servitor’s music, plays on beats and musical traditions from around the world that don’t often reach the Western audience. Not sure how to place a mambo beat? Neither was I. Yet Malley has helpfully added a blurb to each track that explains from where each beat is derived (and I say derived, as Malley has clearly taken some liberties in making them Servitor’s own, as any artist does). Through careful consideration of “Root Room,” I feel more confident I could pick it out of music in the future. The same can be said for all of the tracks on the album. “La Montana Secudiendo” and “Ipabembaio” inform me that I love a good Afro-Cuban-based beat; “Dizzy Desi” made me look up more Indian-Bhangra; and “Meserat Banta” opened my ears to Moroccan percussion traditions. They have something larger to teach an open-minded listener, and through this, the album takes you on a journey around the world through the power of audio imagination.
But the album is not solely valuable to the uninitiated. In fact, professional musicians and dancers alike could find much to reap from Beats To The Ground. Musicians should pay close attention to the ways that Malley layers his percussion to create massive textures that work as tracks in themselves, not to mention how he allows traditional world beats to inform his music while making them his own. Dancers can hone in on the re-imaginings of myriad traditional beats and work their bodies to them in new ways. For me, Beats To The Ground is about the connection to the human from a variety of cultural perspectives, as well as it being the perfect addition to my dance-workout routine for the way it makes me want to move. What will it be for you?
That’s the most important role Beats To The Ground plays: it appeals to a wide audience for countless reasons. The only way you’ll discover yours is to pick up a copy of your own!
Purchase here: https://servitordrum.bandcamp.com/album/beats-to-the-ground
- Root Room
- Karnaval Yedi
- Meserat Banta
- Dizzy Desi
- Rhythio Gaia
- Damaz Kronn
- Knobby Hobby
- La Montana Secudiendo
- Sofa POWWIE!
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