Album Remarks & Appraisals:
2009 release from the Jewish Reggae star, the follow up to his 2006 studio album Youth. Light is anything but safe. Produced by David Kahne (Paul McCartney, Sublime, the Strokes), the 14 track collection covers a dizzying amount of stylistic ground, from hard-edged Dancehall ('Smash Lies') and Ska-inflected New Wave ('We Will Walk') to laidback Pop/Rock ('So Hi So Lo') and acoustic Folk-Soul ('I Will Be The Light'). Light finds Matisyahu edging away from his comfort zone into more daring territory.
Light is the third album by reggae singer Matisyahu, which was released on August 25, 2009. It was anticipated since his major label debut Youth released three years before. The album has been highly successful in the reggae world, holding the top spot on the billboard reggae albums chart for 34 weeks
"Those who know Matisyahu only as "that Jewish reggae singer" will have to rethink their definitions. Matisyahu's faith is as much a part of his music as ever, but no style dominates his third album, Light, which moves between reggae, dance hall, hip-hop, and rock (of both hard-edged and acoustic varieties), often within the same song. Matisyahu's refusal to heed the constraints of genre is laudable. But by the time "So Hi So Lo," a straightforward alt-rock banger with no appreciable reggae or hip-hop influence, kicks in, one begins to suspect that the artist's able genre-switching reveals a deeper lack of confidence. Matisyahu, it seems, piles on the stylistic shifts and production gimmicks because few of his ideas are strong enough to build entire tracks around. While working his broad sonic palette with ingenuity and verve, he sacrifices the opportunity to develop a sound that is truly his own. Light ends up with exciting moments, but few memorable songs.
It's not that Matisyahu wasted two years in the studio. Light has its share of intriguing ideas, they just never amount to much, and by this point in his career, Matisyahu ought to be much closer to establishing his own voice. He's hindered by an extensive cast of collaborators, who sometimes make the guy sound like a guest on his own album. "Motivate" finds him contending with a song-length guitar solo in addition to sampled claps and stomps, with only a static vocal refrain to make the song his own. His vocals are run through an extensive battery of digital effects on the aggressive dancehall opener "Smash Lies" and its surging pop follow-up "We Will Walk," rendering them almost unrecognizable. Matisyahu already impresses with his acrobatic blend of chants, wails, and rapid-fire raps; add Auto-Tune and a few layers of overdub and the result is more dizzying than dynamic. "Light" is the first track to feature any appreciable amount of undoctored vocal work, though listeners could be forgiven for not being sure whether the capable, charismatic MC revealed there or the one on the breezy "Thunder" is the real Matisyahu.
Some of the album's better production ideas come courtesy of the Glitch Mob's Ooah, whose off-kilter electronics liven up blander cuts without crowding Matisyahu out. Ooah is ostensibly responsible for the excellent bridge on "So Hi," which uses a dissonant synth melody to elevate the track above its tame SoCal funk-rock inspirations (think latter-day Red Hot Chili Peppers). Ooah's minimal glitch flourishes are appreciated, especially during the album's second half, when it seems like every other track is bringing in a children's choir or a thundering church bell sample.
Lyrically, Light is an album concerned with spiritual struggle, but it's rarely insightful. Matisyahu has an unfortunate tendency to slip into generic New Age sloganeering: He's for compassion and integrity, against war and lies, and he often lets us know in the broadest and most apolitical terms possible. The chorus to "We Will Walk" is frankly incomprehensible: "You are the only good thing in my life/We will walk/Until my blood runs out/Until my heart is done." Meditative verses on "Of Nature" and "Silence" evince more genuine reflection, and the latter track is especially welcome in that it strips down the studio distractions and gives its pulsing beat and acoustic backdrop room to breathe. Finally uncluttered, Matisyahu offers a solemn memoir of his struggle to keep faith despite the apparent absence of his God. Neither preachy nor banal, it's an affecting closer, even if it's not as sonically inventive as the rest of the album. If he could match that level of focus and sincerity in his more energetic cuts, Matisyahu could have a great album on his hands." -SlantMagazine
"It's hard to imagine that Matisyahu - the Hasidic Jewish musician from Pennsylvania - is only thirty years old. It feels like ages ago that he burst onto the music scene in 2004 with his debut album Shake Off the Dust... Arise.
It seemed like a joke - a Hasidic Jew fusing reggae, hip-hop, and rock into something substantial. Was it just a gimmick? Well, all assumptions were dropped when Matisyahu's sophomore album Youth peaked at #4 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. Apparently this guy was for real.
It's been three years since Youth, and on his third full-length album Light the 30-year-old Matisyahu (Matthew Paul Miller) seems to have hit his stride with a type of maturity and polish that only time and experience can create. "As my musical tastes have grown I have been re-discovering my sound and my voice," says Matisyahu (press release).
Matisyahu hits the ground running on Light, opening with the pseudo-reggae dance anthem "Smash Lies" that doesn't let up once. Only after the ska-pop "We Will Walk" and the enlightening anthem "One Day" did I really get what he was trying to do with the album. I mean, geez, the album's titled Light.
With lyrics like "One day this will all change / Treat people the same / Stop with the violence down with the hate one day we'll all be free" there was potential for corniness and agenda-setting, but Matisyahu doesn't sound at all preachy when he repeatedly chants "One Day" everyone will be equal.
Creating catchy and smooth melodies has always been Matisyahu's strength. I hesitate to say the word pop because his words and rhythms are more different and feel so much more than simply notes and beats. The album's second-best song "On Nature" best exemplifies how accessible he makes his music but it sounds like something you'll never hear on the radio.
Light is a surprisingly good album despite Matisyahu's differing musical approach that contrasts to his earlier work. Matisyahu doesn't try to do too much with his music as he maintains as much simplicity as possible to stay lean and focused, a result from his optimism: "Being an artist is about being sensitive to how the world resonates inside you and then being able to express it."" -BlogCritics
Spin (p.82) - "Matisyahu expands his sound...punching up his earnest ruminations on faith and inspiration with sleek hip-hop beats and shiny pop-rock guitars."
Billboard - "Matisyahu's third studio album, LIGHT, finds him revisiting the teachings of his Jewish faith, but also pushing musical boundaries behind traditional reggae."
Lyricists: David Kahne; Barrington Levy.
Personnel: Trevor Hall (vocals, guitar); Chevaughn Clayton, Michael A. Harris, Peter "Mann" Gayle (vocals); David Kahne (guitar, keyboards, programming); Eric Krasno, Jeremy Harding, Aaron Dugan, Reeve Carney (guitar); Stephen McGregor, Adam Deitch (keyboards, drums, programming); Shawn Pelton (drums); Jay E. & Easy Street (programming).
Audio Mixers: Manny Marroquin; David Kahne; Serban Ghenea; John Hanes .
Recording information: Anchor Studios, Kingston, Jamaica; Germano Studios, NY; Levcon Studios, Los Angeles, CA; MixStar Studios, Virginia Beach, VA; Roc The Mic Studios, New York, NY; SeeSquared Studios, NY; Shabby Road Studios, LA.
Editors: Adam & Matt Podd; Rob Brill.
After three years (spent mostly on tour), Hasidic reggae toaster Matisyahu returns to the studio with LIGHT, the followup to 2006's stunning (if controversial to many) breakthrough, YOUTH. On the 2009 LP, his third, the prominently bearded Mr. Miller continues to venture further into the unexplored spiritual and philosophical realms of his heralded hybrid.
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- The Klezmer Tribute to Matisyahu (Various Artists)