Matisyahu’s third album, Youth, while weaker than revolutionary Shake Off the Dust…Arise and the electric Live at Stubb’s, still firmly establishes the genre of Hassidic Reggae and Matisyahu and his band as one of the most exciting musicians today.
Listening to Matisyahu (any album for that matter), you can’t help but get pings of Bob Marley. While I will never say that Matisyahu is as revolutionary as Bob (in the genre of reggae, who was?), both channel spirituality and emotion into their music like few popular musicians. Bob Marley’s music and his religion, Rastafarianism, were inextricable: Bob used Rastafarian themes (humanity, passion, love) so that others appreciate its beauty and majesty. Matisyahu does the same thing with Judaism bringing up themes such as the Temple/Mount Zion (homecoming), Moshiach (peace), Egypt (freedom). Furthermore, both have commanding and distinct voices filled with more emotion and passion than most musicians can muster.
Making the parallels even more cosmic, there are some Rastafarians that even believe that they are from the Ten lost tribes of Israel. So, Matisyahu and Bob may be related. (As a Jew, I’d dig calling Bob Marley my cousin!)
From a passionate, emotional standpoint, Youth totally delivers but then again, all of Matisyahu’s albums deliver from that regard. The pointed licks of a Reggae groove compliment any lyrics’ intensity. And Reggae is a full body experience. I’m not the greatest dancer, but I can totally move when a good Reggae groove. The whole package is more spiritual than any davening (praying) I’ve ever done in synagogue.
That being said, I thought Youth was mixed. Some songs reach awesome heights, while others, felt like sugary sweet pop. It seemed like many songs were catering to MTV crowd. (Judging from the crowd at the 2/28/06 Paramount Theater in Denver, he’s succeeding) While I wouldn’t say that it strayed from its Reggae roots, it lacks the originality.
Here is a breakdown each of the songs:
Fire of Heaven/Altar of Earth – A good solid track that represents everything that Matisyahu does well: pointed licks, spiritual lyrics, and tight interplay between the band.
Youth – Saw this one live and it was a crowd igniter. Starts off in a maelstrom of almost acid jazz (think Miles Davis) followed by a nice heavy dub rhythm. Matisyahu’s lyrics really shine here showing how our youth need to be empowered as they are the future of the world. “You’ve got the freedom to choose/Better make the right moves.” The track moves nicely along and keeps you going until the guitar solo towards the end. Sounds almost like a Whitesnake-styled mess. Blecch. It’s a good song, but is much better live.
Time of Your Song – Did Matisyahu hire Destiny’s Child’s producer? Over-processed, over-trebly, midi-infused beat. While I’m totally into electronica, this is syrupy and cliché. Even though Matis’ singing/rapping is great and powerful (the song sounds like an autobiography of his spiritual journey), it just can’t cut through this one. I can see this one being done well live with just the four members of the band and no midis. Thank goodness for live shows.
Dispatch the Troops – This one starts out great with an awesome dub beat (can you tell that I’m a Lee “Scratch” Perry fan). Then it falls flat into a Jimmy Cliff feel. There’s even the WS_FTP files are “finished” sound. It’s a mixture, where the ingredients are all pretty delicious, but the mixture just isn’t right. Even the nice ode to the Police (the first white guys who tried to do Reggae).
Indestructible – Matisyahu does Laryn Hill. While Matisyahu’s voice and passionate intonation are great as well as his the “Hassidic beatbox” lick, it’s still a little too MTV for my liking. I’m really curious what this would sound like if we didn’t have the over-produced music? The end of the song falls into this nice easy groove with Matisyahu’s voice over. It blends so well that I could have listened to this section for hours. This a kind of mess, but somehow it blends well.
What I’m Fighting For – Acoustic and Matis’ voice. You can’t go wrong with that.
Jerusalem – Again, this track feels a little over produced. Jerusalem if I forget you/ Let my right hand forgets what it’s supposed to do.
WP – The song starts off deep and dark but then pours into a bland hip-hop noodle. It think the WP is supposed to stand for White Plains, a northern suburb of New York City. I’m not really sure what this is talking about.
Shalom/Saalam – Beautiful, if brief, world-beat styled song. Great African instrumentation with Matis’ Hassidic beat box. I definitely wanted more of this. Not sure who Yusu Youssou is, but she/he collaborated on the song.
Late Night In Zion – This is easily the prettiest song on Youth. The simple orchestration combined with Matisyahu’s cantorial-styled singing makes it sound like a lullaby. I saw him perform it at the Paramount Theater in Denver and was blown away by it. This breezy song was a great pause in the middle of an intense set. The song talks about the humility and fallibility of man. “A man is just a man filled with faults and weakness/For the young Jerusalem all alone and speechless/At nighttime nobody’s home roaming streets and darkness/I feel I’m just a man.” I think the wired world we live inundates us with visions of perfection: be faster, better, always. Matisyahu is trying to tell us that we’re just humans, making mistakes and that makes us awesome. The lullaby-ish feel of it really tries to talk to the child inside of us.
Unique is My Dove – Another messy song but it seems to work well together. It starts off with a great dubby beat with a spirited Shabba Ranks styled lyrics. The highs and lows catch you off guard but somehow you feel good at the end.
Ancient Lullaby – An excellent African feel to this song just makes you want to smile. Good drum solo at the end.
King Without A Crown – The song that is going up the MTV charts. It’s a great song that is nicely enhanced by the studio experience. It nicely captures the energy of a live Matisyahu’s show. Aaron’s guitar solo is enhanced by the dubby wah wah sound. Matisyahu’s voice nicely wraps the music delivering lyrics of growth and redemption.
To boot, I also felt that the sound quality was a bit muffled. It almost sounded like they toned down the levels. Blecch.
But, if you looking for the “real” Matisyahu, see him live.