Media loves to whore their interest in unique artists using music channels as their outlets. You’ve probably heard about the Hasidic Jew reggae artist on VH1, MTV, Fuse, or MTV2. I’ve written enough about Matisyahu’s background and style enough to give you a brief glimpse of his music and culture. Yes, he is manifestly a Jew, and though many people view his religion and culture as gimmicky and tacky, a way for a man to make money, Matisyahu’s faith is probably most responsible for his music. As a boy, Matthew Miller, a New York Jew, Matisyahu took a great interest in jam rock music, citing Phish as one of his earliest influences. He was a poor student, eventually dropping out of high school. After self conflict and uncertainty with what to do in his life, Miller took a profound in his previously unnoticed faith- Judaism. As well as listening to a lot of hip hop and reggae, his alias of Matisyahu was formed. After releasing a publicly well received debut album in mid 2004, Shake Off The Dust…Arise, Miller released a live album in 2005 where he had played a show at Stubbs’, an Austin Texas pub where he thought he had his most ambitious performance. The album had all the famous songs from the studio release, and even saw the artist’s improvisational skills, where a beatbox performance and even jams were seen. Matisyahu took a short hiatus from touring to acquire some of his personal downtime, until later that year, when he proceeded back into the studio to work on his 2nd studio release, and follow up to one of the fastest selling reggae albums of the decade. The album was to be called Youth, due to the psuedo- Judaic content, and the motivational epiphany for life found in the context of the grooving reggae that Miller pumped out.
To be honest, right off the bat, Youth is not as astounding in material or groove as Shake off the Dust… was. Providing you listen to this album A LOT (it’s necessary, because on the first listen, it’s very droning), Youth lacks the quality in musicianship and lyrical content that the debut possessed. While Shake off the Dust seemed to boast a very uplifting and inspirational message, Youth seems to encompass a much more political, dark appeal to it. There is a guest appearance by a rapper, but that only furthers the political criticism of the album. And as much as I enjoy Matisyahu’s religious inspiration purveying through his music, Youth is somewhat overwhelming in that aspect. Matisyahu’s lyrics are almost always faith-oriented, yet something about Youth is annoying in that regard. It is probably that his lyrics were indirectly related to religion on his previous efforts. It made the music seem motivational and powerful, yet did not alienate the majority of the population, or treat everyone inferior and victimize the Jews. On Youth, Matisyahu applies a direct source into Judaic beliefs. And although, I am a Jew myself (albeit not a very religious, or interested in religion), the victimizing apparatus of Youth’s message and pure political outcry is far too outlandish for Matisyahu to incorporate and not be alienated as an artist.
Musically, Youth is perhaps Matisyahu’s most unique album, drifting from the standard high-up-on-the-neck guitar chords and head bopping rhythms. The variation between songs is actually very pleasing to the ear. The music varies from tropical island melodies to acoustic guitar strumming, to even the use of electronic synthesizers. His blend of hip hop, rock, and reggae backing tracks provides clarity and depth to his soaring vocals. His band does not play nearly as loudly, distorted, or as much as on previous records. They take a much more humble “less is more" groove approach to playing, and rhythmically, one of the most pleasing auditory recordings of the decade. The guitar playing is nice and soothing, touching on the styles of jazz, while maintaining a Caribbean atmosphere. The interplay between the bass and drums is euphoric in terms of reggae beats. The drums often play very laid back beats, with the bass rumbling on cue, and exotic percussion (congas, bongos and even timpani) chugging along. The groove is everything that makes Youth as an album worthwhile.
Political reference can either make a band revolutionary and radical, or possibly get the artist in an awkward position. Matisyahu encounters the latter on Youth. The album is an awkward combustion of religion and politics, two subjects that are usually refrained from being brought up in everyday conversation. Other than cumbersome lyrical content, and blatant religious preaching, Youth is rather enjoyable. It may not fashion on par with the reggae star’s previous efforts, but is an impression that definitely brands its listeners. Maybe next time, the politics will be left to the government and we will experience what we paid for- catchy music.
This is a stellar review. The only thing I've heard of this guy is the title track from this album plus his work on POD's Testify. It sounded pretty good, but nothing I'd spend money on. Again, awesome review.
All I have heard is the single, but I was pretty impressed by it.
I am kind of bummed out that all of the music channels constantly promote him though. They get a chance to whore him and people will pick it up solely because he's Jewish and not because he has talent. It's a shame.
Cool review, I was just getting ready to do it myself. I think you could have explained the music a little more in depth, whilst it's all interesting to read, the majority of this review seems fixated on his religion. For me, it seems more important to discuss what the album is doing musically, because there already enough people that are so focussed on his religion, his music can often be ignored.
Nice review anyway, I'd probably give the album 3.5, maybe even a 4.
matisyahu is ok.
can only listen to it in intervals of 2 minutes.
the album was a bit over rated, but incredible talent on Matisyahu's part.This Message Edited On 04.14.06This Message Edited On 04.14.06
As a old school reggae fan- I introduced to the band by my son-, I was impressed by" Youth"- for a first look-as far as the religious content- Reggae from Bob (Marley) always had Religious content ( Rastafarri) was the base, and had a very Old Testamental core- conscious reggae- of which, to me this seems to be a good example-
"Jerusalem" was really excellent, I felt like I was listening to Bob- of course, one's work is judged over time- and by I think these guys are ones to watch- very cool! Could be lots of good music ahead, me hopesThis Message Edited On 05.01.06This Message Edited On 05.01.06This Message Edited On 05.01.06
That's whack, I hate the newer version of it but that's probably because I'm so used to the original. I tend to underestimate this album, there are a few dull moments but there are some killer tracks like Time of Your Life and Jerusalem.