Music

Matisyahu: Youth

Nate Seltenrich

Youth may not be Matisyahu's second album, but it's still a sophomore slump.


Matisyahu

Youth

Label: JDUB
US Release Date: 2006-03-07
UK Release Date: 2006-05-08
iTunes affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Behold the sophomore slump. Cherish it. Embrace it. Remember the past; look to the future. Youth is Matisyahu's third full-length release, but only his second studio record (Shake off the Dust...Arise came in 2004) and his second album to receive any sort of attention (Live at Stubb's introduced the "Hasidic reggae superstar" to the world). Plus, Youth just sounds like a sophomore album. You can hear the growing pains -- the muscles stretching, the bones creaking, the soul in angst as it tests and forges an identity.

"Fire of Heaven/Altar of Earth" is what Youth strives to be -- a faultless fusion of Matisyahu rapping and singing, preaching and praising: of reggae and hip-hop; of studio and stage; of young and old; of dancefloor liaisons and righteous piety. Youth knows what it wants to be, but Matisyahu and his band Roots Tonic haven't led it there. Instead they've arrived at a plane of shattered glass, a reflection refracted in myriad directions. Taken as individual visions, most of Youth's 13 songs succeed in one way or another. The title track delivers a strong lyrical message with disjointed, yet equally bold music to back it up. "Young man -- the power's in your hand / Slam your fist on the table and make your demand / You gotta make the right move", pronounces Matisyahu in the chorus. "Jerusalem" is a dancehall track that best exemplifies Matisyahu's style -- clean, catchy, and spiritual. His fiery vocals roll over a slick beat straight from the Neptunes' notebook.

But stepping back from Youth reveals a spectrum of shards swept into a pile. Matisyahu seems to trying to do too much, to arrange too many ideas. Too much attention has been given to making songs, and too little to making an album. The acoustic guitar ballad "What I'm Fighting For" doesn't gel with MC Stan Ipcus's rap cameo in "WP", which in turn frustrates the mellow ruminations of "Late Night in Zion". These are not bad ideas in and of themselves, but jumbled together in poor sequence they amount to little more than the playlist of an iPod Shuffle.

Youth's error is corrected by its limited-edition counterpart Youth Dub, which keeps a tight focus across Matisyahu's musical and lyrical themes. These dub versions of songs from throughout Matisyahu's career range from good to excellent, but what really sells the collection is its dedication to one idea. That's part of what made Matisyahu great, initially, especially on Stubb's, and it's what is sorely lacking from Youth. It's not that Matisyahu should be painted into a corner -- he clearly doesn't want that to happen, and neither do we -- but there's a difference between variety and sprawl, between trying new things and throwing them all up against a wall to see what sticks. When viewed through a dub lens, Youth's new approaches don't sound so divergent; rather, more like different ways of viewing the same thing, which, when repeated across an entire record, can be a sure formula for success.

Youth doesn't rival either of Matisyahu's previous releases. But it does present some of his most intriguing studio recordings yet, aided considerably by Bill Laswell's deft electronic touches. Most importantly, Youth proves that Matisyahu is no gimmick. He's a dedicated artist facing the same struggles as any from the secular world. Along with Youth Dub, this is plenty to tide us over until next time.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image