Matisyahu - Light
Matisyahu remains a talent, and somewhat of a true original despite the fact that his sound is a derivative gumbo of reggae, dancehall, hip-hop, and high-energy dance music. That said, his new album Light is just not really an enjoyable listen. I don't have a problem with ambitious genre-defying albums that jump from style to style, but this one seems to suffer from trying to do too much. Matisyahu is a capable singer, a decent songwriter and has a nice flow when he gets into his dancehall raps, but something about Light just doesn't sound right.
The subtleties, or should I say high-tech intricacies, of the production are certainly better appreciated through headphones than a car stereo. But the songs are lacking something. Not sure if it's hooks, soul, roots, better (less techno-style) beats, or all of the above.
I'm not gonna tell Matisyahu what kind of record to make, or that he should dial down the electronics and get a little rootsier (though that would be my suggestion), but his talents seem buried in the mix. I don't have a problem with messages like "one day this will change/ treat people all the same; stop with the violence/ down with the hate" but 28 years and counting since the death of Bob Marley, lines like these just sound like empty platitudes unless they are worded or expressed in a more interesting and original manner.
In the middle of "I Will Be Light," all the extraneous instrumentation and studio trickery are stripped away to leave Matisyahu singing "You got one moment in time for life to shine, burn away the darkness," backed by a single strumming acoustic guitar. It's actually one of the finer moments on the album, notwithstanding the irony that by trying to shine his light on every sound and style under the sun, he's clouded up the moment that this ambitious record seems to be aiming for.
It also doesn't help that the tunes I found to be the standouts ("Struggla" and "Thunder") are buried toward the end at tracks 10 and 12.
The attempt to rock up a track like "So Hi So Lo" or the intro to "Motivate" with electric guitars doesn't exactly fail. It generally works and sounds fine (yet fails miserably on the train wreck that is "Darkness Into Light," complete with forced-rock chorus and beat-box breakdown), but it's just another style to add to the busy production and grandiose attempt to be all records to all music fans. And maybe that's the point: to not just talk about blending reggae with hip-hop and rock, but to actually do it and bring the whole universe of music under one tent. It's a nice idea, but much easier said than done.
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