❉ Paul Matts catches up with the heady dub of Boston’s Flying Vipers.
Flying Vipers play dub reggae. In its pure sense, with components deconstructed at the mixing desk and regenerated using that very source as an instrument. In the manner of the Black Arc. With authentic instrumentation and spacious, baron grooves. Their style has seen them record with Jamaican legend Johnny Clarke (None Shall Escape the Judgement, Simmer Down), as well as perform live with the maestro himself, Lee Perry. Indeed, Big Takeover magazine described Flying Vipers as “Instrumental Dub in the definitive Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry style.”
Flying Vipers are a quartet from the east of the United States. Boston, to be precise. They line up with Marc Beaudette on drums and percussion, brother John Beaudette on guitar, bass and melodica, Zack Brines on keys, and Jay Champany on mixing and production. The members have played with such acts as Destroy Babylon, The Macrotones (the Beaudette brothers), Pressure Cooker, King of Nuthin’ (Brines) and Ten Foot Ganja Planet (Champany). Along with contemporaries such as The Slackers and, they provide a respectful nod to Jamaican music, not just in its form but also in its sonic. Though these acts are quite different stylistically, their approach shares this principal.
2015 saw the band’s debut release, a mini album entitled The Green Tape. The theme was extended in 2016 with The Copper Tape, continuing a dub theme with a similarly styled sleeve. This approach is reminiscent of the albums such as the African Dub Chapter series released by Joe Gibbs, complete with thematic titles and covers. Another mini album The Shadow Tape, continued this in 2017.
The First Two Tapes, brought together The Green Tape and The Copper Tape in a longer format in 2018.
2017 heralded the collaboration with Clarke on the 45, Highest Religion. On the flip side was an alternative version (Highest Version on the flip side). Quite an accolade for the fellas from Boston, Massachusetts. A solid slab of dub roots reggae, with Clarke’s accompanying the Vipers with the skill and subtlety you’d expect from an individual who has graced many top releases and compilations through the years.
A further intriguing release followed in 2019 with Nervous Breakdub, comprising of dub do-overs of Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown EP. A similar approach as taken by acts such as the Easy Star Allstars on their seminal Dub Side Of The Moon.
2020 has seen a trio of issues. In February, the single, Two Twenties Clash, sent out a warning before the COVID-19 pandemic, of the dangers of a year with two ‘20s’ in it. As in 1977, Culture and Two Sevens Clash and all. A spacious, sprawling, instrumental dub work out held tight with the bass melody, featuring delicious sounding horns. It has a foreboding feel.
Pandemic Versions gave new dub mixes of some older material in Reeling of a Nation and Stink Bug.
The third 2020 issue is a milestone. The first, full length Flying Vipers album, Cuttings. It contains thirty-eight minutes of floating sound effects, dark groove and at times, strutting stomping. The album shows Flying Vipers can very much hold the listener’s attention far longer than on the mini-albums and singles issued thus far.
A growling intro quickly gives way to the chilled groove and a barren soundscape that is opener Leaf Miner. The bass melody takes over, enabling Zack Brines’ keys to become especially effective, floating around the cut like discarded spliff ash.
The previously mentioned Two Twenties Clash is up next.
Stark is very definitely an adjective to describe the opening to Gesho. The arrival of the melodica brings with it a heavily reverbed guitar and rhythmic subtlety. Nice, and obviously shows an Augustus Pablo-esq touch.
The chirpy Flight Of The Gorgon lifts the tempo.
All the tracks are recorded on an eight-track machine, allowing for a true mixing desk sonic, courtesy of Champany, to shine through. Effects, rumbles and echoes drop in and out perfectly.
Willy’s Wonder has a grandiose opening. The introductory bars are very much to my liking. A snappy rim shot snare rhythm jumps in and drives the cut along, picking up plenty from the mixing desk on the way. A bright number, that works well. Next up is Scorpio Son with a strutting beat which chills and then gains intensity with John Beaudette’s guitar. Zack’s opening piano chords give it a soulful touch. The wonderfully titled Twin Donuts staccato dub contains a wah-wah guitar melody that is a nice in its variation. Unusual as guitar melodies are not always so prominent in dub reggae – though obviously not unknown. In fact, one of the album’s main strengths is the variety of sounds, and the space in the mix afforded to them.
Puff Adder is strutting dub number with light and shade, like Scorpio Son. Another track with a dramatic intro is Devil’s Harvest. It has a delicious melody, taken by the melodica, allowing the bass freedom to move and groove. It is quite a roots style cut, with dub dropouts keeping it within the overall Cuttings’ vibe. Great stuff, and one of the best tracks on the album.
Cloudkill is driven along by a further John Beaudette bass melody, with a dirty funk back-up. Son Of Scorpio is, as the title suggests, an alternative version of the earlier parent track. More stripped down, in keeping with classic dub approach of the early 1970s.
The album closes with Mash Tun Babylon. A bright intro, again with colour and drama, drops into an airy, capacious soundscape featuring all four members working together to produce an end cut with character. A satisfying end to nearly forty minutes of dub groove, made in 2020, but with each second’s heart planted in the analogue mixing desk sound of the genre’s genesis.
Boston’s Flying Vipers have produced a dub long-player made with feeling, and with a respectful and healthy nod of appreciation to the form’s originators such as Scratch, King Tubby and Augustus Pablo. The use of space echo, stark soundscapes and authentic instrumentation, all pulled together using the desk as an instrument itself, marks it out from other digitally produced modern releases.
Keep it up, fellas. It’s working.
❉ Flying Vipers’ debut LP ‘Cuttings’ is available now on Jump Up Records. BUY / LISTEN NOW. Full production vinyl & cassette coming this Fall
❉ Paul Matts is a writer from Leicester, England. His first novella, ‘Donny Jackal’, a kitchen-sink coming of age drama set in English punk rock suburbia in 1978, is out now both in paperback and as an E-book. His fiction has been featured in Punk Noir Magazine, Brit Grit Alley and Unlawful Acts. Paul also writes articles on music, in particular on the punk and new wave movement, and is a regular contributor for We Are Cult, Punkglobe, Razur Cuts and Something Else magazines. See https://paulmatts101.wordpress.com/ for more details, and to subscribe for updates.