Light | Matisyahu
After listening to Matisyahu’s newest album “Light,” it would be reasonable to ask what part of Jamaica he is from. But Matisyahu is not from Jamaica. His only connection to Jamaica is that he may have enjoyed its favorite herb while being a Phish groupie during the 90s. Instead, Matisyahu is a middle-class kid from Westchester who, after one too many Phish shows, found God, converted to ultra-Orthodox Judaism and discovered how to make dub music. Good dub music. Sometimes great dub music. And it is the strength of his music, not the novelty of his religion, that makes his latest release, “Light,” a worthwhile if not essential listen.
One of the strongest aspects of Matisyahu’s new album is his willingness to go beyond pure dub music. Even though this experimentation is not always successful, some of the best songs on the album show him attempting to expand his palette. In “One Day,” he makes a plea for world peace and the hope that his children will encounter a better world. Its religious imagery recalls some of reggae’s classic artists, and Matisyahu’s voice is in stellar form. On “I Will Be Light,” his use of religious metaphor and traditional reggae rhythms would make his song sound right at home on a playlist with Bob Marley and Desmond Dekker. Unfortunately, his experimentation is not always successful. Songs such as “Motivate” and “Struggla” are hindered by awkward attempts at musical expansion, such as a misplaced guitar solo in “Motivate.”
Matisyahu’s experimentation, though not always successful, is worth applause. Even tracks such as “Motivate” and “Struggla” are noteworthy because they strive for originality. What causes the album to lose its luster are a number of bland songs. Tracks such as “Escape,” “So Hi, So Lo” and “For You” can be considered Sean Paul knockoffs at best. Matisyahu sounds staid and listless on these tracks. His unconventional lyrics are unable to mask generic songs that contain almost no traces of originality. That is not to say all of Matisyahu’s attempts at dub are disasters. Songs such as the opener, “Smash Lies,” and “Darkness into Light” are danceable and original. They demonstrate his deft ability to combine singing and rapping in a way that is perfectly fitted for dub.
The ability of Matisyahu to produce top-notch dub music is laudable. Some of his songs, especially as he looks to move beyond pure dance-hall reggae, are original and insightful. Unfortunately, his tendency to rest on his laurels and produce generic dance tracks hinder his latest album. So even though it is not perfect, “Light” is at times engaging and original. It shows that if Matisyahu continues to search for original means of musical expression, the results could be spectacular. For now we will have to settle for occasional glimpses of his potential.
For fans of: Shaggy, Ziggy Marley, Vavamuffins, Sean Paul
Tracks to download: ‘One Day,’ ‘Darkness into Light,’ ‘On Nature’