Review Summary: After two years of preparation, the genre-fusing preacher makes one hell of an upgrade.
The first thing that ran through my head when I first watched Matisyahu (born Matthew Miller) perform his first single "King Without A Crown" back in 2006, sounded like this: "Hmm...a Hasidic Jew rapping religiously over rock/reggae songs...a quite ingenious gimmick." In such a random fusion of styles, the unusual frontman delineated messages of peace and faith to everyone in the vicinity. I, personally, kept focused on the thought that he looked very peculiar - so peculiar in fact that naturally, such curiosity caused quite a large deal of people to become fans, and those fans to buy the album that really catapulted Matisyahu into the spotlight, Youth
. I learn more and more about Miller and his dirt poor past - how he fell into the label of 'high school drop-out'. This isn't such a far cry for artists in any sense, but there was no doubt an exotic twist in this case because that artist happens to be a Judaic hip-hopper on a never-ending quest to find God. Donning a broad-brimmed black hat and throwing a yarmulke over his head, Matisyahu is back after a two year break to uplift the downtrodden with his brigade of inspirational lyrics and head bobbing dancehall breakbeats with his third studio album.
makes no attempt at hiding the fact that it sounds like a highly diverse group of people all talking at once. The size of the list of genres Matisyahu sings through is matched only by his beard. Legitimately so, with two years of effort put into this record, Miller undergoes a colossal advancement in his sound. Transforming his old earthy rhythms to ones with more luster, you'd have to think Miller was given pointers from Kanye West for the froggy electronical voice loitering in the background as he raps out faithful verses in "Smash Lies". He has never been given so much support by so many different elements and instruments at the same time - synthesizers electrifying the force of the first impression, piano lines climbing down gently every so often... the cut out of everything else in the chorus but a subdued guitar's sustained power chord as he praises with a partytone, "Smash lies - stand up and jump off to this..."
The engulfing drumbeat, with its frantic high hat pattern, is no stranger to us - it's a textbook hip-hop hit next to Lil' Wayne or T.I.
This only begins an extremely flexible range of styles, more so than on Youth
. While the opener spins on the radio-friendly side of hip-hop, "Motivate" is a full-fledged rocker as guitarist Aaron Dugan's whole-song solo acts as Miller's second voice while rapping over a reggae groove. The unpredictability of the next track constantly keeps you excited and addicted. It sounds as if volatility was the one characteristic Matisyahu lacked all along up until now.
Even when the track finds its solidity, a borrowed skill may come along and challenge itself like in "Darkness Into Light" - which, believe it or not, sounds like a 90's ballad with its overdriven, sludgy chorus made up of sinister tower bells in the background. The song sounds to be figured out - until out of nowhere Miller starts beatboxing fervently over the dun dun dun
chugging of the heavy guitar. When I say versatility, I mean just that.
Lyrics and Messages
Even with all of the many modifications to his sound, Matisyahu remains true to heart. Being a man with an impassionate religious drive, his writings are still filled with Judaic dependence. One of the most standout tracks lyrically is "Escape" which combines reggae upstrokes with glitches flickering in and out.
"...Lost my mind on the train, runnin' from the insane/Children taught to blow their brains out in the holy name/Runnin' for fame where everybody knows your name."
For a long time, Mr. Miller has been expressing the pains of religious wars and abuses. He regularly brings up the younger generation's confusion in evil times and feels it to be his own groovy mission to set them straight (hell, he does have an album named after that cause). But when problems are thrown out into the open, it's in Miller's nature to install optimism, as he later turns around: "Even in this madness, we will survive..."
Hope is prominently the preacher's favorite subject to rap about, and there's no story more hopeful than the 'rags to riches' tale he street-raps over handclaps in "Struggla". A fairly repetitive snip of avenue life pays tribute to the many struggles of the rapper's poor past - "Through the rise and the fall, I've been through it all/I'm a struggla."
To equal the potency of his uplifting lyrics of bettering the world in the fields of war and corruption, Miller takes the time to appreciate what he does have - in turn, what we all have: "Sometimes I lay under the moon, and I thank God I'm breathing/And I pray, 'don't take me soon, 'cause I am here for a reason.'"
Such appropriate lines are echoed over the breathing lungs of orchestral strings and acoustic climbs later joined by the fluttering of effects leading this grateful anthem, "One Day" to its stimulating chorus.
While the album has its share of ferocity in both music and lyrics, Light
shines just as luminous when taking a breath. Airy alternative rock numbers such as "We Will Walk" and "On Nature" provide excellent beats absorbing anything else around it into its finesse, giving Miller's voice a bit more space to glide around heedlessly. "Thunder" also contains a harmonious atmosphere and gains an extra coat of sleekness for following its dark predecessor.
Ending the ever-changing journey through genre mutts, it's refreshing to hear Matisyahu keep it simple to usher us out of Light
. His hush voice truly borders on "Silence" and sweetly caps off a long-awaited accomplishment.
The album's success is in huge debt to not only Matisyahu's careful construction and adaptability, but the efforts from a lot of his friends. The amount of guests scattered around this album is incalculable. To name a few: Glitch Mob's 'Ooah' is responsible for touching up the album with its electronic switches and good friend Trevor Hall sets the easeful tone in the soft-spirited and acoustic "I Will Be Light". Producer David Kahne brings the absolute best out of the Pennsylvanian preacher in the expansion of his voice for the couple of stadium ballads present on the record. Possessing both an impressive musical anatomy and a powerful message of faith, Light
is a mountainous album and a titanic step forward in sheer creativity. Matisyahu more adequately proves the accusations of a cheap gimmick to be resoundingly false.