Matisyahu – Youth
Last year when a friend of mine, Afshin, told me to check out this Jewish fella in full hasidic gear blasting out reggae music, I thought… he was having a laugh. It wasn't that I didn't think someone of that heritage or appearance should be on a stage singing reggae and rapping, it's more that I just wasn't used to seeing it. Shamefully, for someone usually so open minded, I didn't bother to check him out at first, but Afshin insisted that it had to be seen and heard – so I did.
The last Matisyahu album was Live At Stubbs, but earlier this year a new studio album was created; Youth. Live At Stubbs had a real energy about it, the band were fantastic and Matisyahu's vocals were top-notch – so, what about the studio album Youth?
Well, essentially it is reggae – but the uniqueness within the Matisyahu sound is the way in which the emphasis can change at any point during a track; from the vocals, to then perhaps a more rock sounding guitar or drum solo. It's this blend of Matisyahu's reggae vocals and the ferocious instruments that can be heard particularly on the live recording of Live At Stubbs and also on the first two tracks of Youth; Fire Of Heaven/Altar Of Earth and Youth.
Matisyahu – Youth
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The third track is Time Of Your Song, this track has a more artificial sounding drum loop and synth melody, more reminiscent of an rnb track. It's a catchy track with a strong beat, but nothing special – immediately I was missing the organic and raw sound of the live album.
Dispatch The Troops is track four, a song more in the same vein of the live stuff – utilising acoustic riffs and organ samples. One of the most reggae sounding tracks of the album, in a typical reggae sense anyway. Bit of an easy-listening kind of affair, but interesting enough never-the-less.
The fifth track is Indestructible. One of the weakest tracks on the album, not necessarily a bad track, just really nothing special – yet still catchy. Sounds like a cross between Wyclef Jean and Sean Paul, quite poppy in a certain sense. Like I say, not bad, just nothing special.
What I'm Fighting For is track six, a rather more acoustic affair – simply Matisyahu's reggae singing, an acoustic guitar and a few other minor samples. Imagine a reggae version of Jeff Buckley or someone, that might be close. A nice little track I guess, just over two minutes long.
On then to track number seven; Jerusalem. Another real heavy classic reggae feel to this track – this track is funky too. It definitely got my head nodding with it's processed beats, clap samples, and melodic chorus. Not really 'single' material, but a good album track.
WP is track eight. Much more of a rap emphasis on this track with a guest appearance by MC Stan Ipcus. It's an ok track, but by this point in the album I'm left feeling that there hasn't been much direction through the tracks. Like Matisyahu is trying to achieve too much, yet so far it's all been quite average.
Track nine is Shalom/Saalam and it features some of Matisyahu's famous beatboxing over (or under) some very airy strings samples. More of an interlude track than anything at just over a minute long.
Late Night In Zion is track ten. This one is quite steady and chilled in comparison to most Matisyahu tracks. It's enjoyable, nicely structured, and also good to hear Matisyahu sing in a different manner to usual. Still not quite enough to really impress me – whether that's just cos I'm a bitter old cynic or not is beside the point!
Track eleven is Unique Is My Dove. A plodding reggae ditty with some mean drums – cool guitar riff too. Another one to get my head nodding. Nice enough, but unlike the song's title, it isn't particularly unique, not entirely sure what it's lacking, but it just doesn't quite cut my mustard.
Ancient Lullaby is track twelve. Got a bit of a Paul Simon twang to this one – sounds like it could be playing as the credits go up on a feel-good movie. Maybe it's cos I'm not a huge reggae fan, or maybe cos the album is a bit bland, but by this point I'm suffering from Matisyahu-fatigue.
The thirteenth and final track is King Without A Crown. This was on Live At Stubbs, but obviously in a live format. Maybe Matisyahu included this to give his fans a studio version of their fav to cherish, or maybe he felt his bland album needed a bit of beefing up. God, I don't think I've been so vicious towards an album! Either way, this is a nice version of King Without A Crown, yet not a patch on the live version.
I know I've given this album a bit of a kicking, but I have some thoughts as to why; the live Matisyahu tracks (as heard on Live At Stubbs) were far more organic and raw, they had a real punch to them. But perhaps this is a similar feeling as to why I thought Bonobo's Live Sessions were sooo much better than Dial M For Monkey – it just sounds better live! As far as this album showing no real direction and sounding bland, well; I can imagine Matisyahu wants to try different things and doesn't want to be pigeon-holed as a one-trick-pony, but this can (and has) back-fired.
Usually this is the point where I'd say "if you like this, this, and this… then you'll like this", but (regrettably) I don't feel much like recommending this to anyone. On the other hand, if you don't have Live At Stubbs, you should definitely get it, it's a fantastic live album.